Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas is Over!!

I'm not a bah-humbug type, really. I found myself defending Christmas and it's celebration more than once throughout this last season, but this Christmas season has left me in a dark mood, just dark enough to start up this dormant blog, to post a few stories to darken the world of others.

And so, enjoy this story, and welcome to Meta4worldZ!!

I wrote this story once some time ago, but it was lost over the years in hard drive crashes and rampages through my filing cabinet for more space. Even so, it always stuck with me, as well as a couple of my friends that had read it. I never quite thought I had it finished, but now I think I am very close.


The Mark of El Chupacabra

Demmy dug especially deep to bury his last breathing friend, Mutt. He was glad that the soil was moist and easy to clear away, as he wasn’t able to get the work out of a shovel that he once did.

Behind him a voice drilled into his back. "Such a shame, such a shame."
Demmy tossed a shovel of dirt towards the voice, the soil passing through phantom feet. "Just be quiet. Mutt was a good dog, but he was getting old, I don’t think he lost out much. " He said aloud, yet thinking to himself, but it’d been better to see ‘im get dragged into the swamp by old Neptune while he was getting a drink than to get left all cut up like this. Poor bastard.

Demmy put the bundle that was all there was left of his longtime companion in the hole and started pulling dirt down on it. The old blanket his dog had used for years was wrapped around a snarl of fur, bones, and a collar. He had looked more like a fish cleaning rag than a dog where he found the carcass, at the base of a big willow that ran along the lane into the homestead.

Despite himself, one voluminous tear pushed up around Demmy’s eyelid. He wiped it quickly and looked around for Dead Billy, but found he’d been given at least a moment’s reprieve. He stamped down extra hard on the dirt, then got a piece of scrap plywood to put over the fresh soil, Demmy was only having this burial once.

Winded from his exertion, Demmy went inside his trailer and settled into his easy chair with a beer and the remote, ready for another round of channel surfing. He had just settled on a good fishing program when Dead Billy chimed in from his regular perch on the couch, even though it was stacked high with boxes.

"So that’s it, huh? Bury the only companion you’ve had for five years and plop back down in the easy chair to watch some satellite TV ? "
Demmy switched channels.

"Don’t you even want to know what happened to him? All cut up like that. Just for your own safety if nothing else???"

Demmy finished off his beer, set the remote down on his coffee table beside the lamp, and got up, speaking without looking over at the couch. "What the hell am I supposed to do? Mutt’s gone, dog that old oughta know to keep out of trouble."

Demmy grabbed another beer from the fridge, as well as a bottle of hard stuff off the kitchen counter. In a few turns of the elbow, Dead Billy was gone.

In the morning, Dead Billy was nowhere to be seen as Demmy finished off his pot of coffee. He shot a long look at the piece of plywood and fresh mound of dirt as he walked to his Pick-up and fired it up, letting the diesel whine for a full five minutes before heading out the lane. Despite being five years out of the dealer’s lot, the truck still smelled new. Demmy hardly used it and was careful to keep a nice thick coat of Armor-All on the interior. He kept the cardboard sunblocker in the windshield and all the windows rolled tight to keep out the swamp. It was all that Demmy wanted to be left of the outside world.

Most of what Demmy had was five years old now, except for the replacement underwear and clothes he would go into town for once a month, raiding the shelves at midnight in the Super-Walmart. The trailer, the satellite dish, the boat, they were all five years old and bore no resemblance to anything Demmy had wanted or possessed before that five year threshold.

Heading into town that morning, Demmy kept convincing himself not to just turn around, load up the boat and trailer, and head out. He hadn’t paid a lot for the land, and they say that even swamp real estate increases in value, so it’d still be there later if he ever wanted to come back. That ten acres of swamp might be the only home he had, but he wanted no part of what had been going on there lately.

It had started about a month before, when smaller animal carcasses torn apart the way that Mutt’s was started showing up along the lane. The first was a squirrel, ironically, it was Mutt that brought it to my attention, dragging it into the patch of grass he called his front yard to shake around in his mouth. Even then the remains reminded me of a rag. The skin was cut into shards, bones stripped clean and clinging to the pelt by bits of gristle.

Almost every morning there was a new carcass, one night sounds had blown through my loud stereo system from the darkness outside, as some animal, a raccoon as it turned out made a final stand. I heard the noise and hit the mute button, hearing at first the pitched barking of a large raccoon, and then a sound that reminded me of wild boars. It sounded like it was all happening right behind my trailer, so I got a flashlight and headed towards the back door.

Just as he was about to turn on the back light, unlocking the door handle, the noises changed to a sucking sound which stopped with the outside light coming on. He pretended that he wished it hadn’t and flung open the door, pointing the flashlight along the shadows. There was a little movement along the shadow lines, maybe a paw being dragged back into the darkness, then a flurry of movement in the brush. Though he was not quick enough to catch whatever was doing it with the flashlight, it seemed as if something was jumping from bush to tree trunk in leaps a kangaroo would be proud of. Then, silence.

Later that night, he roused out of a deep sleep, to hear the sucking sound again, this time coming from the front. Demmy didn’t hurry to get up this time, but he lay in his easy chair with the sound muted, listening to the sucking sound again until it subsided, followed by ripping sounds, where he imagined the meat was being stripped away. In the morning, he took a shovel and threw what was left of the raccoon into the swamp for the gators.

Two days later, it had started to get personal. Demmy was out in his boat, bringing in trot lines in the early dusk. His property had one large pond on it, fed by channels coming down from Lake Okechobee and draining on out towards the gulf. Most of it was overgrown by moss and alligators, but there were still deep holes in it where Demmy found a steady supply of catfish and snapping turtles for his freezer.

Demmy was only slightly wary of his surroundings as he headed to the south end of the pond, to a channel just inside the ponds outlet that was one of his best spots, despite the infestation of alligators and whatever other varmints had been running around the property lately.

He cut the engine and coasted towards the end of his line that was staked to the bank beneath clusters of cypress and a few feet of weeds in the shallows. The approaching dusk kept Demmy from seeing a disturbance before he heard it, the weeds just in front of where he had his stake were moving around. He could barely make out two figures, one writhing the shallow water, and another almost human shaped figure hunched over it.
Then, the entire bank in front of the boat erupted. From ten feet out in the water, an explosion of weeds and moss and mud washed ahead of what at first seemed like a tree trunk coming out of the water. Demmy reeled back in his boat and yanked an oar so that he turned parallel to the scene, still about fifteen feet away.

The "tree trunk" turned out to be Old Neptune, the resident monster gator, whom Demmy had learned to co-exist with over the years. It leapt on top of the hunched figure, which only slightly resembled a human. It flattened beneath the massive fifteen foot alligator’s weight, leaving at first only a set of clawed feet and arms with pointed talons to show of itself.

Neptune’s assault briefly stalled after they both landed in the water, then the gator started writhing itself, twisting it’s snout back and forth and ultimately lifting it’s whole front up out of the water. Neptune’s opponent rose with it, though it was not in Neptune’s mouth. It hung from the bottom of his jaw. Protruding from the back of it’s head, and up through both halves of Neptune’s jaws, looked to be several long sharp spikes.

Neptune continued to shake violently, until the thing was tossed away. It landed not far in front of the boat, where he finally got a brief look at it. It was humanoid shaped, legs, arms, a head, neck and torso, but the resemblance stopped there. It had huge black orbs for eyes and fur all over it. It’s mouth looked like a pig’s snout and just before it leapt twenty feet into a tree, it flicked out a tongue that had to be a foot long.

As quick as the thing was gone, so was Neptune, leaving only a smaller alligator, which the thing had attacked, still wrapped up in my trot line in the shallows. They usually left my lines alone, one of the understandings I thought I’d had with Neptune and his brood, but it was hardly unusual to find one like that. I cut this one loose from a distance, having enough of the whole scene, and brought in the rest of it.

I wish it had ended then, or that Neptune had been successful. The next few days, carcasses turned up even more frequently, every morning, and sometimes in the afternoon. Once I swear it got thrown from a tree when I turned my back to a sound I heard in the woods.

There were deer, turtles, a small alligator, and two or three smaller varmints by the time it got Mutt. I was out walking the lane one afternoon and Mutt just didn’t come back from one of his spins out through the woods. There was no sound or movement to be spoken of, he didn’t even notice exactly when he stopped coming back around on the long circles out through the woods, but back tracking through the brush didn’t find any trace of the dog at all.

Demmy sat on his front porch late into the night before turning in for the evening, but he saw nothing. There weren’t even any sounds, as if all the critters that usually make the night air their own special symphony, were gone along with Mutt.

Walking into "Whitey’s One Stop Bait and Tackle", Demmy nodded to acknowledge the crew that he found there on every visits, four guys that tended to drape themselves around the register. Some were employees, some weren’t, as far as Demmy was able to tell.

Whitey’s was the main place that Demmy ever stopped, sometimes even picking up most of what he needed for groceries instead of heading all the way into town to the IGA. It was one of those places that probably existed on every backroad in the country, since the roads got paved and people lived out on them. He had a little bit of everything there, from the advertised bait and tackle to a couple aisles of food. There was one aisle of toiletries, a couple racks of t-shirts with profane slogans on them, a wall of racing memorabilia, a few stand up refridgerators with worms, milk, and ice cream in them respectively, and a small counter in the back with guns and ammo.

The regular crew was four guys, all wearing racing caps and jeans, with t-shirts that probably came off the rack in back or from a bar up or down the road. The chubbiest one of them, a kid who looked to be just about twenty, with bushy hair and long red chopped sideburns that would fill in about the time he would be too old for them to not look silly, recognized Demmy as he came in.

"Hey there, how’s that Power-Stroke running for ya’?"
Demmy smiled, over-spending on his truck had the benefit of making him friends at times. Most of the time Demmy would just politely smile as the kid would go into a diatribe about his truck’s engine and it’s horsepower and a whole list of other features that Demmy cared less about, but this time it was welcome.

"It’s running better than anything else out at the place. Something’s been killing everything around, got my dog last night, thinking I might need some traps."

The one that looked like he got paid to be at the place, at the register, answered. "What kind of traps? Think it’s a coyote or something?"
Demmy was careful to reply, not wanting to look insane, even to the little gang of loiterers, "It may be a little bigger than that, do they have bear around here?"

All four of them of them were at rapt attention, but they let the one that worked there do the talking. Demmy figured that if that guy were working at a morgue, they would all be there as well.

"Bear?" The kid almost cracked a smile, but stopped himself, seeing the seriousness, and possible fringe of insanity in Demmy’s eyes. "Haven’t heard of too many bear around here, but every once in a big was your dog anyway? Sure it wasn’t a gator?"
Demmy laughed, "Nope, it got a gator too."

They all broke into huge grins, thinking that the guy was crazy, but knowing that either way there was fodder for bullshit sessions like there hadn’t been in a long time around there. "I think we do have some Bear traps here if you want ‘em. If you catch one, you make sure to bring it around okay, they don’t get around here much, at least not causing any trouble."

The kid led Demmy back into the store, down an aisle with two high set of shelves, piled with everything from Halloween masks to garden fertilizer. He pulled a large box down and then went back to the counter as Demmy followed.

He set the box down with a heavy clunk, a massive steel trap with sharpened jaws as big as a basketball hoop. Still not sure how to take Demmy, but not wanting to risk pissing off some possible nut case, he played it straight, giving looks to each of his friends to make sure they shut up too. "That’ll be fifty seven dollars, sir, and, …good hunting."
They all cut up a little after his comment, drawing new hard looks from their ring leader, but Demmy paid no attention, he handed the kid the money and hauled the box out to his truck. Demmy wanted to get out of the store, not because he thought they might break down and laugh at him, or bore him to death talking about his truck, because they brought up memories he didn’t want.

He wondered where there parents were, if they knew the bunch of them just spent their time sitting around at the bait shop.

He was pulling out of the lot when Dead Billy piped up, "And what’s so wrong with that?"
Demmy glared over at him, "They’re just wasting their lives there, doing nothing. They’re …!"

Demmy didn’t say anything back, he ignored the apparition, thinking he would just go away like usual, but for the whole ride back, Dead Billy stayed in the passenger seat of the truck. He even put the window down so he could put his hand out into the wind and play, like he used to.
Except before, there was something to catch the wind and push his arm up and down, and Will would giggle like he was flying through the air himself.

And then he came home from work early and found his stoned son and his stupid buddies sitting on the couch, giggling at cartoons and hardly acknowledging him when he came in the door.

He’d yelled at them. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?"
From there it got worse, in the yelling match that ended with Will running out, and in the following weeks as things got progressively out of hand. The school called and said that Will had quit bothering to go to school at all, and being sixteen, he had to get things right or move on.
Demmy sat down with his wife, Marlene.

What are we going to do, Mar?
He’s just a boy.
It’s going to be too late before he starts acting like a man.

Willy didn’t just quit going to school, he quit coming home too. At first, he was staying with a friend, and calling his Mom almost every night from their house, and then his friends family got tired of his crap too. And Will was gone.

Marlene cried every night, and not for the previous fifteen minutes after getting off the phone with Will. For weeks, calling the Police every day did nothing to bring their son back, and his wife spent the night weeping in her bedroom behind a locked door.

Demmy camped out on the couch and stewed. What the hell was he supposed to do about it.

Demmy caught one of the stupid friends hanging out downtown, so messed up he didn’t even recognize him as he walked straight up to him and lifted him off his feet.

"Where the hell is my son?"

The boy tried to pull away but couldn’t, Demmy was too strong and too angry, and not taking any bullshit answers. They ended up at a pay phone, where the boy called a number he had on a crumbled up piece of paper. He said that Billy was staying at a place where they got drugs, and that he could call and find out exactly where it was.

"Yeah, I need some more. I’ll come get it, give me that addy again."

Demmy took the address from the stupid friend and let him go, threatening to finish the job of roughing him up if the address was bullshit, and went home to stew on things before running off to get Will.
Marlene was already in her bedroom when he got home, Demmy walked down the hall purposefully, but stalled before he knocked. Instead of pounding on the door and taking her with him to pull their boy back home, he tapped with one knuckle.

From what sounded like miles away, "What?"
Demmy sighed. "Any word."

The address was almost in the city, forty miles from Demmy’s sleepy little farmer suburb, but he made better time than your usual morning commuter. The house was in a better neighborhood than Demmy had imagined, but was still run down to the point it looked abandoned by his hometown standards. There was garbage on the lawn and cars parked all around the property, half the windows had plywood on them and the other half had no curtains. The front door was wide open. Demmy walked right in.

Two kids were sitting on a couch in the front room, a stereo was blasting at them and they stared straight into the sound like it was a rushing breeze. Demmy turned the music down and startled them out of their daze.

"What the fuck!"
"I’m looking for Will Brown. Where is he?"
The least stoned one stuttered, but understood. "Will Brown? Ohhh, Billy! He’s upstairs, passed out, first door on the right. Could you do me a favor and turn.."

Demmy was going up the stairs before the kid could finish, and through the first door on the right.

And there was his son, passed out cold on a thin mattress on the filthy carpeted floor, wrapped in a dingy sheet. Demmy paused for a moment, just looking at him, despite everything, he still looked like his boy, Billy, curled up asleep. A few years back, his boy had gotten a case of the grown-ups, insisting that everyone call him Will, because Billy was a little kid’s name, though the other’s in the house didn’t seem to think so.

Demmy tugged on his son’s hand, "C’mon Billy, let’s get out of here. I can take you home right now."

His son stirred slowly, heavily impaired, slow to recognize even his father. With the first hint of recognition though, came anger.
Will wriggled himself free from his father’s grasp. "Get off me, Dad. How the hell did you find me anyway?"

"You need to come home, you’re going to get yourself kicked out of school!"

"I QUIT school, Dad, I don’t have to go anywhere."
The two deadheads from downstairs and one other similar looking guy had joined the two of us yelling in the hallway. "Will, you’re still a minor, if you don’t come with me, the Police will bring you home, you’re a runaway."

"I’ll just leave again, and next time, you won’t be able to find me." Malice and defiance in his son’s face put Demmy back on his heels, then stirred up a well of his own anger.

Demmy envisioned himself throttling the little bastard and dragging him out to his car. He saw himself slapping his son and leaving the side of the boy’s face red, and he shuddered. Tears puddled beneath his eyelids as he looked into his son’s stony glare.

He wanted to tell his boy that he was killing his mother, that she just needed to see him. But that seemed like it would just be pleading, and pathetic.

In the end, he did nothing, he turned and left his boy there in the hallway.
At home he said nothing, for the next few days he thought about other ways to get his son back, of taking his wife back with him, or simply telling the police where he was and letting them bring him back, but he still did nothing.

And then the police did come, to tell them that they’d found their boy. He was dead, a combination of alcohol and drugs they said, two of the people at the house were up on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Marlene didn’t sleep and didn’t stop crying for the four days until the visitation. Demmy tried to console her as much as he could, but was carrying so much guilt himself that he wasn’t much help. And then the coup de grace, at the visitation, as one of the idiots from the downstairs couch came through the visitation line.

"I guess we should have made him go home with you when you were there, shouldn’t we have?"

Demetrius’s wife spoke him for the first time in weeks, and the last time ever on the way back from the funeral, after everyone was gone.

That had been five years ago, but might as well have been last week, because since that day, nothing had changed. He’d sold everything, bought the truck, the trailer, the satellite dish and the boat, and left. Dead Billy started coming around right away.

Demmy didn’t go inside that night like usual to watch television. He sat up in his lawn chair around the fire pit down by the swamp. Dead Billy never even showed his face as the light faded and Demmy set log after log on the fire, passing time in his own thoughts, with no sounds around him but the chirps of a few brave, distant insects.

Marlene had started yelling as soon as they were away from everyone else, steaming the windows of the sedan with language and a guttural voice that Demmy had never known existed. He could but close his eyes and see her face, twisted in rage, and he could transpose that same face onto the image of his son as he’d backed away from him, back in the house he would die in.

On the way back from town, there had been a pig farm, and Demmy had thought that to buy one of those pigs, hopefully a piglet if they had one, if not, no matter, that he would have the perfect bait for his traps, but he never stopped. He knew what the thing that was killing everything in his swamp wanted. He had seen it in the way it had faced him after pulling away from Neptune. Whatever it was, it was working it’s way up the food chain, and it wasn’t going to be fooled by a walking piece of pork.

It would have been very easy for Demmy to load up everything and get away that morning, as easy as turning and walking out a front door, as easy as getting out of a car, but he hadn’t. He set himself up by the swamp, by a fire pit, and had himself a nice long burn.

It was after midnight when he heard the first sound, slithering, snorting sounds that he’d heard through the thin trailer walls, out on the perimeter, outside of the fire light. The trees were as far back as anywhere on his property, one of the reasons he’d put the fire pit there and why he’d set himself up there that night.

Demmy heard a rustling in the brush and stood up, flashlight and shotgun in hand. He trained the light on the spot he heard the rustling, then to another spot, and caught a flash of something, scales? Fur? Spikes, the eyes like glass, and then the brush burst towards him.
The thing came flying out towards him, clawed feet aimed for his chest, arms with razor sharp fingers arched back to follow through. Demmy shot it in the chest with his pump action twelve gauge, then swang the butt around to fend it off as it landed.

It was lighter than he thought it would be and his sweeping gesture through it to the side. Landing with what served as it’s elbow in one of the traps, which snapped shut violently, some sort of juice flew as the jaws dug in and the things emitting a high pitched scream.

Demmy pumped the shotgun and put two more round into the thing’s face and chest. He picked up the trap which had been directly behind him by the handle and hit the thing in the leg with it snapping the jaws shut around the knee. More of the juice flew and another scream nearly sent Demmy to his knees. The free clawed hand swooped around and caught Demmy’s face, throwing him sideways, nearly into the last of the three traps which had been protecting Demmy’s back.

Demmy hit the ground but had the presence of mind to pull his Smith and Wesson out of it’s holster and shoot three more rounds into the thing writhing on the ground.

For a moment, the thing stopped moving, long enough for Demmy to get back to his feet and limp towards the water. The fall had twisted his knee but not enough to stop him. He held the gun on the thing but did not pull the trigger, hoping that it might be finished already, but somehow knowing better.

He was right, it got back onto it’s haunches as Demmy got past it, but he no longer had the gun trained on it, he was focused on his destination, his boat, pulled up onto the bank. Demmy ignored the pain shooting through his knee and hopped up over the bow to the console. The thing was limping along after him but at least ten feel from the bow when Demmy hit the ignition and through the motor into reverse. The boat pulled back into the water dragging with it a chain, which he’d hooked up to the traps.

Just before the chains took hold, the thing faced him, maybe knowing what it was in store for, or maybe sizing up the distance for a leap. Demmy saw once again a face so foreign that it chilled his blood, but this time he was not really running away.

The chains took hold, and yanked the beast off its’ feet, dragging it down towards the water on it’s back. The spikes on its’ back took hold then pulled up in the ground like a furrowing plough, until it was in the water, Demmy kept the throttle on full.

He rarely took the boat out after dark, for good reason. Night on the water was the alligator’s realm, and part of the understanding Demmy thought he had with his fellow swamp resident. But this night, Demmy broke the pact, even while possibly completing the terms of another.
Besides Mutt, Neptune was the only living thing Demmy’d known over the last five years, though he never kidded himself that would matter if he put himself in the wrong position. He even imagined that Neptune would know that Demmy might be bringing a gift. Bullets alone surely wouldn’t kill the monster, they never did, not in the movies, and not in the real world, not true monsters.

Twenty feet into the swamp, the wake of screeching water that was Demmy’s monster came to an abrupt halt, yanking the boat sideways and stalling the motor. Demmy watched as a the living tree trunk came up out of the water like a trophy bass, this time, wrapped around it’s prey from the front, spikes pointing out past yellow gleaming gator teeth.
More of the juice spurted out and steamed on the water as the monstrous jaws squeezed shut, time and again, the body of the thing slowly pulled into Neptune’s mouth. Demmy unhooked the chain from the front of the boat and quietly poled himself back to shore, giving a wide arc to the feeding area.

In the bathroom mirror, as he washed himself off, Demmy found Dead Billy over his shoulder. He did not turn around to face him, he just studied the boy’s face and let him speak.

"I can’t believe it Dad, you finally stuck around long enough to get marked up. There might be hope for you yet."
Demmy began crying as his son faded away.

On the internet, on one of those alien-watcher sites, Demmy found a picture of a creature that looked much like the one he and Neptune killed in his swampy lake. It was called El Chupacabra, Goat Sucker in spanish for the livestock they apparently feasted on in Mexico and along the lower United States. Demmy was not surprised to find that the carcass that was digesting in Neptune’s stomach would be worth a fortune, but he did not care.

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