There was absolutely no way I was following those footprints, so me and my undead dog decided to try the door next to the staircase. Naturally, it turned out to be an escalator, going up. Yet it was mercifully free of exploded woman parts and demonic footprints, so it seemed a regular stairway to heaven.
When the escalator reached its terminus—a grimy hallway lined with moss-green shag carpeting—a feeling hit me like countless fly wings blowing across my skin, all dirty and weightless, raising gooseflesh on my arms. I took it as a kind of omen, or maybe a bit of woman’s intuition. Either way I had a bad sense of things to come. Yet given what had already happened, expecting the worse just seemed like common sense. I briefly considered turning back, but chances were the—yup, the escalator was gone. Drowned somewhere beneath a long expanse of shitty seventies carpeting.
My escort vanished into the black curtain of darkness that fell just beyond the weak lighting, snorting occasionally. I was thankful for my partner’s preference to remain mostly unseen, but whether that was out of courtesy, necessity, shyness, hatred—I had no idea. At least his odor had faded somewhat. Or perhaps it just wasn’t as bad compared to the demonic afterbirth. There’s a selling point if I ever heard one. We made our way down the hallway, small bits of shredded clown squishing underfoot. The dog’s massive jowls dragging across the rug left a trail of bright bloody globs as it snuffled and snorted. Fucking gross.
I was trying to decide which was scarier, Rover or the décor, when something slammed into me. A woman dragged me to the floor, clawing at me with fingertips worn down to bony nibs. She had the strength of a crazed lunatic, her eyes just blood and sclera, nothing human amid the debris. Her claws went for my neck. My blade went for her eye, but she was too fast. She slammed my hand to the floor, sending the knife skittering. Pinned and powerless beneath her, she lowered a mouth full of broken yellow teeth.
A pulpy soup of blood, bile and vomit spilled from her scabby lips as she spoke, her breath almost as rancid as the dog’s. “Do you hear it? It won’t stop. Please make it stop. Please!” I did hear it—the lilting voice of someone singing. It seemed close but distant at the same time, like it was coming from the other side of a thin wall. I felt something pulsing against my stomach—the voice was coming from the woman’s guts.
It was singing, “Momma come and get your Baby Boy.”
Overwhelming revulsion gave me my own lunatic strength, and I threw the woman off me. It was then I remembered the .38 on my ankle. She sprang to her feet as I clawed at the Velcro, yanking it free and firing blindly. Her face disappeared in a spray of blood. A few rounds found her midsection, driving her back against the wall where she collapsed.
I sat frozen to the floor, wondering if I still heard the singing, the shaky revolver clicking emptily at the lifeless heap. Was her ruined midsection moving? Where the hell was the dog? Surely it’ll descend out of the darkness and finish her off. Two peas in a pod, those two—they can gossip on the perils of hosting the otherworldly as he devours what remains of her.
The woman started to spasm, her head jumping up and down like a drugged-out corpse at Woodstock. The shaking became more violent, the top of her head finally bursting open like a hot Pepsi, blood spraying to the ceiling. The singing instantly grew louder, clear as a bell. I scrabbled for my knife, preparing for the worst.
The quivering body sounded like a wet cloth slowly being torn apart. Something horrible began to swell from within. The singing grew with each passing moment. I tried to run but couldn’t. I was stunned, lost in a sea of bloody moss-green shag, my only lifeline MIA.
A huge greasy head rubbed against my shoulder, putrid drool running green and orange down my arm. A chorus of undead voices whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry dearie, we were just enjoying the show. We’ll take it from here.”
As though sensing the stronger adversary, the fetal monstrosity burst from its human wrapper, somehow larger than its host. Everything went red as blood and viscera shot wetly throughout the corridor, splashing the lights.
The fetal demon looked something like a hairless, half-digested wolverine, its teeth like railroad spikes, spitting hatred and hissing madness. Yet it may have met its match in ol’ Rover. Massive and monstrous, his flexing claws shredding the carpet, he stared hate at the demon, his growling so deep I felt it in my feet. I looked on with disbelief as the Bowers began to spill forth from the darkness of his undercarriage, tumbling mad and lethal across the floor, their blades shining and hungry.
The dripping red light cast the battle in shades of horrific impossibility. I could feel my mind slipping out the back door of my skull, chasing down the last bits of my sanity. But instead of going mad, I got angry. Screaming, I threw myself on the back of the monster and buried my knife in its head. From somewhere deep in the marrow of my soul, I could hear the witch’s laughter, endless and cold like a winter sky, triumphant like the spring.
Jaws stretched impossibly wide, Rover plowed into the newborn nightmare, howling like a choir of banshees, driving his teeth deep into the face of his crooning opponent. For its part, the slavering creature raked the sides of the great hound with wickedly hooked claws, rending flesh and puncturing organs. Unfortunately, it failed to understand the obvious—the dog was already dead.
The Bowers moved like monstrous, maniacal ants. They swarmed the vomitus creature with their equally nauseating numbers, stabbing and slicing with piston-like speed. They required neither air nor time to refresh their ruthless undead butchery. I caught a glimpse of one of them looking at me—the younger son, I think. He licked his black lips, eyeing my breasts as we hacked and stabbed. Dead just wasn’t enough for this bunch.
At some point during the melee I was thrown down the hallway, my face slamming hard on the shag. The bone and cartilage in my nose snapped like toothpicks. A tooth clinked off the wall. Using a doorframe to stabilize myself, I stood up slowly, my nose gushing blood. Something wrapped its arms around me, almost gently. It could have been Wicked, but he knew better. I sunk my knife into the darkness behind me.
Whatever I hit didn’t feel entirely solid, like I’d stuck a scarecrow, all straw and open spaces. Before I knew it, I was falling or flying, darkness everywhere. The voice came from inside my panicked mind, speaking from half-forgotten nightmares.
“Genevieve…Veve. We’re so glad you could come. The nightmares you’ve brought with you…black poems lying in sweetest repose, waiting to be saved from wretched waking. Let us help you realize those nightmares. Give birth to them, so to speak.”
I realized I was indeed falling—into sleep.
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