After several days of fruitless searching, the creatures finally decided to relax their guard, thinning the numbers of their patrols and once again renewing their apathy toward the occasionally displaced shadow. But make no mistake, I was far from inert during this time, as I took cares to better understand my pursuers, stealing into their guarded chambers and slipping away with increasingly weighty insights. One of my more profound discoveries concerned the caverns beneath the city that were filled with the industry of cannibals. All of them were busily sectioning hundreds of preserved corpses into isolated and type-specific parts, which they then proceeded to package in a variety of ways, ranging from the ornate to the industrial. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the flesh eaters passed their bundles into the hands of strange beings apparently called up from the very guts of the earth. It seemed that these cannibals had transformed their rancid hunger into some kind of trade, distributing the meats of humanity to those brooding things that hunger beneath the world. I was immediately curious as to the specific coin of remuneration such inhuman things might use to compensate the cannibals for their productive labors—besides human flesh, for what could such creatures want? Of course, my principal wonder regarded the enterprise’s association with Miss Patience, as the murderess seemed a considerably less purposeful creature than was suggested by all of the frenetic and subterranean commerce.
Another discovery concerned my dreams, or lack thereof. Strangely, my many attempts to conjure them from sleep had failed. Each effort summoned only the stinging absence of memories, of this or any other world. I began to interpret the void as a possible indicator of my quarry’s proximity, as no further nocturnal hints were needed to bring the two of us together. If my theory was correct, then she was certainly nearby, likely abiding in the darkness that lived under the city. And while I couldn’t be absolutely certain, I highly suspected that the mantis-like creature I’d spied days earlier may have been nothing other than the very being I sought.
As for my latest piece of art, it had been hoisted upon a large flatbed truck—the same truck that had brought it from the wood, perhaps—and deposited inside a barn that lurked the outskirts of the city. The ramshackle structure seemed to float amidst the golden breakers of rolling unkempt fields of grain. I’m certain it was placed there to lure me into some kind of trap, which of course did more to cement my low opinion of the creatures’ intellect rather than stimulate my curiosity. So naturally, I decided to reprimand the beings for assuming me so foolish, and ultimately to avenge my fallen tears—they had been wasted on creatures barely worth the flies that played at their slack, reeking mouths. Still, there was something behind the soft, blind eyes of a particular and bygone woman—perhaps an echo of something that forgot how beautiful it once was—that made me wonder how these entities went wrong.
When the night sank into its deepest darkness, I proceeded to follow a particular cannibal—who had once thought to stalk and insult me—to a diner that sat lightless yet heavily attended near the center of the town. After I had entered the building through the backdoor, I was delivered the unwholesome sight of a man-eater’s kitchen. Corpses wrapped in plastic bags filled with sweet-smelling marinades swung from stained hooks, and piled atop stained trays were the raw tubers and organs of the human body, sliced into cold cuts. Now, there did seem to be some lingering conventions of the human condition still clinging to the degenerates, as there were several recently used ovens and stovetop burners where meat had actually been cooked, though to what degree remained a mystery. However, one area seemed out of place—a pile of decaying bodies lay in the corner, all showing enormous bite marks. Initially I believed the cannibals to be ghoulish creatures, preferring their food rotted and fly-covered. Yet later insights showed it was only their breath, and not their appetites, that concerned the spoiling dead. Further, none of the creatures I had so far witnessed possessed jaws large enough to leave such enormous and ragged teeth marks. It was at that moment when the answer to my previously posited question—concerning the compensation of underground customers—was made apparent. A massive creature hauled itself into view, emerging from a distant hole in the floor I had failed to notice. It was something far afield of the beings that occupied the town—it formed no visible relationship with even the darker features the citizens seemed to share in varying proportions and extents. The beast was an alien among monsters, and was most likely one of the remunerations I had earlier wondered about, gifted to the cannibals for services rendered.
I had no idea how, but the creature found me almost immediately, wrapping its titan arms around me even as my sister buried herself in its thick stinking flesh. It hurled me through the saloon-style doors of the kitchen, and after nearly scraping the ceiling, I crashed down into the middle of the dining room filled with feasting cannibals. For the briefest moment all was silent, as hungry eyes looked up from plates piled high with human meat. The next moment was a frenzy of hissing monsters and talons. Teeth made for man-eating entered my arms, legs, and back. Fists smashed into my face and ribs. An alien behemoth leapt upon my back, its razor-sharp claws sinking into my flesh as it attempted to wrap its jaws around the back of my head. I rose to my feet, bearing the weight of the toothy mob and the beast that fed upon rotting corpses. Inopportunely, one of the cannibals produced a large chair and smashed it into my chest, causing me to topple to the ground. The mob was crushing me beneath its collective fury. My bones would soon fail me, and my blood would be nothing more than spoil and stink upon the floor.
Yet I wasn’t finished. I would not fall to these degenerates. They weren’t even proper monsters after all, but only puppets of meat and bone stuffed with the souls of pigs. I had to get to my feet. I had to kill them all. I managed to roll to my back, flinging a number of the hungry patrons away. The larger beast descended upon me again. I locked my hands over the creature’s monstrous fore-claws, stopping the serrated things just short of my eyes. Dirty boots slammed into my temples, and greasy hands wrapped around my arms, trying to derail my strength and allow the beast to fall completely upon me. I could feel the bones of the creature’s paws slowly beginning to crack beneath my strength. The monstrosity tried to end our contest by tearing the flesh from my face with its wide maw.
I pushed the creature upward, fully extending my arms, disallowing it access to my face. I tucked my legs beneath its torso and kicked the beast into the ceiling fan. My sister flashed her deadly smile, grinning in all directions, opening arteries and exposing innards, sending a number of my attackers screaming. One of the cannibals launched at me with reddened steak knives clenched in both hands. My fist removed its lower jaw and my sister freed its bowels. I began to rise up a second time. The gigantic creature was upon me again. I seized its jaws, prying them open. This time something heavier than a chair smashed across my back. I reeled and they piled atop me again. I began to sink down.
“Take his weapons!” one of them yelled. The alien creature occupied both my hands when I felt my father clawed from my back. My anger cracked the monster’s jaw as I threw the beast into the mob, and a subsequent blow cracked a cannibal’s skull like an egg. I saw more cannibals rushing in, brandishing guns and machetes. A bullet tore through my shoulder. My sister retraced the path of the projectile. A stray silence amplified the sound the gunman made when my sister entered his eye. Something like a club struck my head and neck, over and over again. I felt hands and claws pulling me down. The world was becoming blood and indignation. The man-eater I had followed to the restaurant was holding the great axe above his head, as if to bring my own father down upon me.
Yet as my father was raised into the air—and just as my final and greatest rage brought me from the floor—I watched the cannibal’s lean shadow swell monstrous and gigantic. The creature’s face twisted into a knotted mask of engorged arteries and inhuman wrath. Its mouth exploded open, sending rotten teeth spinning through the air, making way for the hellish laughter of my father as it poured from the thing’s ruined throat. The cannibal that cast my father’s shadow swung the great axe into the largest beast, opening its brains to the darkness. My father’s gaze burned from beyond the possessed creature’s eyes, searing my face with a fury beyond calculation.
The flesh-eater’s mouth was little more than a portal to endless, monstrous laughter, yet I could hear my father’s words clearly. “TO YOUR FEET, WHELP! KILL WITH ME! KIIIIILL! HAHAHA!”
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