“Joseph?” Nudging woke me with a start. “Joseph Stride?”
I sat upright, standing above me in my cabin, a woman dressed in rags, holding a small child; her eyes were desperate, I could sense her unease.
“W-Who are you?” I stammered. “How did you find me?”
“Please, I need your help.” The woman kneeled. “He’s been looking for me, for years I evaded him, but now, I think he’s found me.”
I paused, could she mean, the very darkness I have tried to elude?
“Who is chasing you woman?”
“You know, he has left his mark on you.” The malnourished woman pointed to the black stitch peering out from my torn shirt. “He wants my baby, you can’t let him take her.”
“How could you possibly have found me?”
“I went to the doctor in town, begging for him to help me.” She pulled her robe open enough to expose black stitching across the top of her collarbone. “The doctor told me that you used to live up here; we weren’t certain you’d still remain here.”
“Where do you live?” I stood placing another layer of clothing on and readying the blade I had under my pillow.
“We lived in London, then this happened.” She gestured to the stitching. “It killed my husband in Armenia, we spoke to the only survivor, and he described everything.”
Armenia? The creature is not bound to the British Isles? What freeform wickedness had been sanctioned to meander the globe as it chooses?
“I can’t guarantee that I can shield you, however I can lure it toward me instead of you.”
I found her name to be Mary In a panic; we had exchanged each other’s experiences, her husband was killed in Algeria after a strange man supposedly cut into his flesh, removing an organ and causing him to mutate into an profane swine. According to Mary she had awoken one night to see the suited man standing over her as well; he had promised the salvation of the child as payment for Colonel Thompson’s, supposed, sin. I had never met with another victim before. Curiously, I felt relieved that I had not been the only one to be attacked, it proved my sanity and that the creature is a solid apparition. Such joy in the midst of Mary’s utter distain was most unwelcomed; I recalled the German phrase ‘schadenfreude’, in English, to enjoy the pain of others. I amassed my self-regarding contemplations and received the Mary, and her child into my cabin.
The evening drew in quickly; we talked for the longest time of our lives before this accursed beast had fouled them. I told her of my love Muriel, and the sadness that overwhelmed me, having lost her husband we both felt each other’s pain. Mary enquired into my knowledge of the beast, however I could not sate her hunger for answers.
“All I know, it that it took a piece of me.” I handed a bowl of hot stew to her. “I’ve never found anyone who’s had this dreadful affair happen to them.”
“Why has it chosen us? What did we do to anger it so?” Mary wept.
“I would not assume that this unwholesome ogre has heart enough to feel any emotion, it is of the darkest evil.”
“Why did Richard mutate, yet we remain unchanged? What happened?”
“I cannot tell you Mary, though there is still evil growing within us, can you feel it?”
“I can.” She lowered her head in sadness.
I would like to tell you that we slept the night unaffected, but to my horror I awoke to see the damned figure once more. His dull white eyes fixated on Mary, she lay sound asleep. I rose from my bed slowly, my blade behind my back.
“Do not touch them.” I whispered, fearing that the creature would attack Mary sooner, should she panic.
“My dear Joseph, you are a noble man after all?” The suited man’s voice turned my stomach.
I edged a little closer.
“Leave them be, if you’re going to pilfer somebody's flesh, let it be mine.”
The creature hissing with laughter. “Now, Jacob you remember my little song don’t you?”
I froze, the bone chilling song that the beast sang, his smile, the smell, my stomach felt ill. Drawing my blade I held it out toward the beast’s throat.
“You will not touch them, so help me I will cut you down.” Impalpable fear drew my visualization in, I could not focus, but I would not tolerate Mary to be killed. “Mary, wake up!”
Mary laid still, her chest rising and falling slowly, to my relief.
“She will not wake, her body will belong to me. There is little you can do my friend.”
The calm silence in the room added to my amounting fear; what could I possibly do? I needed to take a leap, and pray to god that I do not fall.
“It is time you leave here, and never return.”
The beast stood unnervingly still, his eyes dull and darting. I paced forward swiping the blade left and right. I ducked and darted as the blade severed layers of flesh from the beast.
Laughing maniacally. “How brave, the dear Joseph does try.”
After one decisive hew, the creature’s arm dropped onto the deck. His rapid cries of pleasure sickened me further.
“What manner of being are you?” I cried.
The creature’s black tar viscera flew from the lacerated stump, covering Mary and myself in the fluid. I recall instantly retching the contents of my stomach, while simultaneously dropping the blade. Mary remained asleep through it all. As I peeled my eyes open I could see the creature, standing over me; smiling.
“I am of the earth, just as you are.” Leering toward me. “You’re flesh with redeem me.”
The beast drove his razor finger into my chest once more, tearing open the wound and removing another lump of tissue. I cried in a howling scream, the steely tendrils of the beast pouring the black tar into my body. Almost instantly I faded into darkness, the smell dwindling and the world around me silent.
I had no recollection to speak of. Instead I awoke, bidding that I hadn’t. Wiping the dried tar from my eyes, I awoke standing; around me, all I could perceive was gore. After another scan, I could see the dismembered bodies of police officers. I wanted to cry out in shock, but my form had all but frozen, I was unable to move. What atrocity had I committed? What unspeakable horror what the creature had me perform?
“I see that you’re awake, dear Joseph, how fortunate.”
Still frozen I forced words from my lips.
“What, h-have you done?”
“I have awakened the monster within you. Is man not meant to behold corruption?” The beast paced, unnaturally. “Is the human form too pious to comprehend something as terrifying as the monster within us all?”
Before I could answer I snapped back, my mind worn and my body sore. I opened my eyes once again to see, to my surprise, the inside of my cabin. I darted to my feet, scanning for Mary and her child; they were nowhere to be seen. Fearing I sprinted out into the woods out side.
“Mary?” I bellowed. “Mary?”
I darted forward a meter or so before I heard a beckoning call.
“Joseph, we’re here what’s wrong?” Mary’s voice echoed behind me.
Winded by relief I ran forward, in a swelter of anxiety.
“It’s alright, I had a terrible dream.” I panted placing my hands on the ground, almost laughing to myself.
The sun beat down, it was warm and the wind was calm. Settling into my cabin and convalescing from the macabre nightmare I simpered, indisputably for the first time since Muriel had died. I treasured this moment, though I had been relieved of such, it would not last. How could I have expected it to? The child seemed unaware of the potential folly that would occur, even Mary seemed content walking amongst the tall grass. Serene really, the beauty of such happiness in the preface of relentless evil was, to me, beautiful. Had I known it were visible I would have been embarrassed; the smile and occasional chuckle slipped from me, damn it man, what is wrong with you. I needed to remain on my guard; alert and prepared for whatever dammed plan the creature would weave.
Pity me not, I feared all that would seek to corrupt and destroy, yet I did begin to feel…well to be quite honest with you; I was smitten with Mary, perhaps it was naught more than pleasant company, only time would tell.
Having potentially, predetermined the creature’s plan of attack I began the construction of a hidden chamber within foundations of the shack. With no specific understanding of what I was creating I set to work, preparing various methods of escape should the creature return. It was as I began to chop wood that Mary’s child approached me, her voice laced with ingenuous confusion.
“Mr. Stride?” Her sweet voice peeped. “Where is my daddy?”
I froze, in a moment’s unnerve I turned to face Mary, who had been plucking chickens. Her insincere smirk and subsequent departure from the child’s question left me to try to explain, as delicately as possible, that her father had perished.
“There’s a place, up in the clouds, where all of the good people are allowed to go when the time comes.” I sat next to the child placing my hand on her shoulder. “Your daddy was called up to those beautiful clouds, as a reward.”
“Mummy said he was gone, but she didn’t say where.”
“He’s watching over you and, I suspect, even me. You’ll never have to worry, your daddy is always watching over his little princess.”
For a child of five, her voice was mature; her understanding beyond what I had come to expect. I had wanted to know, exactly, what it was that had happened to Richard Thompson, was he truly dead? Was he still roaming Armenia as a gruesome repugnance? Mary simply did not know, the survivor, who was brought back to London, feared that the twisted mutation remained, alive and copiously voracious.
Alas I continued, the physical enervation and repetitive ritual of chopping wood was wondrously therapeutic; driving the blade of the axe through the various wood fibers and the success of my task plucked my mind out of the shadow of the creature and into the warm sunny day that it was. Perhaps, the weather a sign, God had finally banished the foul creature from this world, only time could, and would, tell.