The October Second Selected Writer is David Hernandez
Please feel free to email David at:
Grayson shoveled a copious spoonful of piping hot peach cobbler into his mouth; his third serving of the afternoon. His belly oozed and conformed to the edge of the Formica tabletop.
He feasted alone, the table shiny and slick from globs of peach syrup and grease, some of which had become hardened, encrusting the laminate surface like amber. As he grazed, oblivious to the disgusted stares of his neighbors on either side in their own booths, he read the newspaper.
The newspaper screamed of terrible things. In India, over a hundred people died in a landslide while pilgrims visited a mountaintop temple. In California, a well-respected health guru was found hanging in her bathroom, in a supposed suicide, but the odd thing was that while forensics presumed she had only been dead a few hours, her body was desiccated and withered as though she’d been there for months.
More alarming was the front-page story of a man in Canada who slaughtered a passenger on a Greyhound, while he was sleeping. The suspect – viewed by other passengers upon hearing the man’s blood-curdling scream – was said to have stabbed the deceased in a vicious succession of stabs with a hunting knife, and then decapitating the man and partaking of the man’s flesh.
Grayson, mouth full of sweetness, didn’t even flinch at all the horror in the world as he swallowed, a thick sliver of fleshy peach sliding down his throat and into his stretched stomach. It would take more than a freakish, murdering, flesh-eating Canadian to make him lose his lunch.
He loved food. It was everything that was good about the world now. But it was not always this way. He wasn’t always fat.
Once he had relished a life as a metropolitan chameleon, shape-shifting his way around the city. He had felt adaptable and fully aware of himself in his myriad roles as a proud member of the gay community, hardworking and loyal employee, resilient party-goer, and most of all, Eric’s lover.
But today? Today he was twenty-eight years old and that world he had once been so passionate about now seemed like someone else’s life in a parallel universe.
Most of all, he missed his partner, and he felt a self-loathing because somehow Eric found him wanting, and had simply walked away. The self-loathing created a hole inside. Grayson knew he could go back to some semblance of his old life..,,all he had to do was embrace it.
Instead, it was the demon that he embraced nowadays; a voracious craving for food to fill that hole inside. Midnight was the worst, because then came the witching hour of his demon’s need.
He remembered the first time he heard the demon’s call. It was the night Eric ended their two-year relationship over dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant.
“I think we should break up,” Eric had said, taking a sip of his margarita.
“We’re from two different worlds, Gray. I’m going one way, you’re headed another.”
“And when did you come to this conclusion?”
“Don’t act surprised,” Eric said, a smug grin on his dark, handsome face. “I’m not interested in something serious. I thought that was clear when we met.”
“It’s been two years, Eric. Isn’t it kind of late to reestablish the basis of our relationship?”
“As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have one.”
“But I love you,” Grayson had said, reaching across the table to meet Eric’s hand resting flat on the table. “Doesn’t that mean something?”
Eric slipped his hand away from Grayson’s and wrapped his fingers around his margarita glass, bringing it to his lips. He took a long drink and then setting the glass down, leaned forward and said to Grayson with unwavering resolve, “But I’m not in love with you.”
The demon howled and the eating began; at first a slow dance, a romantic interlude that eventually evolved into a passionate tryst bordering on frenzy; dangerous and sharp as the ends of steak knives slicing into thick, juicy cutlets.
This was a sensation he’d never felt with Eric or the others. This was a sensation of being corporeal, of being full. It was umbilical. It was substantiation at the end of a fork.
Grayson made his journey up the long flight of stairs that led up to his top floor apartment. Sixty pounds ago it hadn’t seemed so stringent a trek, but as he reached the second of three floors, he realized it was taking its toll on his ankles.
A man in a plain black suit stood knocking at Grayson’s door.
“Are you looking for me?” Grayson wheezed, steadying himself on the wrought iron banister.
The man in the black suit turned around, a sincere smile on his sun-baked face. His eyes were stunning cobalt and his chestnut hair clipped and combed with nary a strand out of place. His features were smooth, unlined; teeming with a youthful exuberance, though Grayson was certain the man had to be in his late thirties or early forties.
“Name’s Caplan and I think I’m the guy who can help you,” the man said holding up a small unimpressive blue cooler with the words IMPRESSIVE INSTANTS pasted on its side in large bold, gaudy purple letters, a shade darker than his necktie.
“So you’re selling something. I’m not interested,” Grayson said as he tried to push past the man.
“Quick to the point, aren’t ya. I like that. Well,” said Caplan, dabbing his lips with a handkerchief, “how do you know you’re not interested if you don’t even know what it is? What if I told you I can help you change your life?”
He paused, licked his lips again, and placed his load on the floor of the hallway. He flipped open the top of the purple cooler, and an icy steam billowed off the top like a deepfreeze. The handsome stranger gestured with his slender, manicured hands and claimed a curvaceous, oval-shaped bottle from the cooler. The bottle gleamed, made of sultry obsidian, with a long swan neck. Caplan held the bottle up in front of Grayson’s face.
“Now,” Caplan said, “don’t you want to know more about this?”
The bottle had a small label placed at its midsection with the words IMPRESSIVE INSTANTS written in a much finer, intricate script than the cheap sticker on the side of the cooler.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“What is it?” Grayson asked marveling the bottle’s suggestive shape. Something about it mesmerized him, and he abruptly asked, “Why don’t you come inside?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Caplan said, picked up the cooler, and followed Grayson inside the tiny apartment. Sitting on the malformed couch, held the bottle up once again as though he understood the effect it had on his prospective client.
Fragrance wafted into the open air. There was pungency about the aroma, the scent of wilted peony shrubs and wine grapes.
“What’s in it?” Grayson asked, sniffing the odd aroma that emerged from the mouth of the bottle.
“Oh, only the best stuff, of course. Perfect for a guy like you.”
“Most of our clients are overweight and want a simpler way to get trim. Impressive Instants provides that.”
“So, an easy fix?”
“Exactly! That’s exactly what it is. One case will change how you look at yourself forever.”
Caplan poured a little of the liquid into a small tumbler. Grayson examined the fluid swirling in the tiny glass, noticing varying shades of purple and tiny seedlings floating at the top in a frothy cloud. The inside of his mouth dried up as a cracked desert floor, his face puckering as he brought the rim of the glass to his mouth.
“It has bite, I assure you, but trust me, it’s worth it,” Caplan said a wink in his steely eyes.
The liquid funneled down Grayson’s throat in a bitter sizzle, settling and cooling in his belly. His mind raced with disturbing thoughts. He imagined the tiny seed particles bursting open by his stomach acids and birthing an alien entity that would come to command his body.
But instead, nothing happened. Nothing at all.
“There, see, not so bad, huh?”
“No,” Grayson said smacking his lips and feigning a smile. “But what does it do?”
Caplan grinned and said, “It will stop your demon.”
Grayson was stunned. How did he know?
“So,” Caplan said searching Grayson’s face. “Should I set you up with your first order?”
And after Caplan left and Grayson realized he was stuck with twenty bottles of hype, he tried not to think about the selling of his soul to mass market miracles, but the bottle of Impressive Instants stuck out in his mind like a monolith. His stomach groaned as he went to the kitchen table and he cradled one of the bottles in his hand, his fingers tracing rhythmically over its shiny black surface.
He was hungry again.
It’d been only an hour and a half since his last meal, but already the twinge of appetite was stabbing into his chest, the demon grinding its teeth. This time, for the first time, he did not cater to the demanding animal that was his appetite. He denied it and instead of devouring something sweet, he popped open the top of the obsidian bottle, massaged its abdomen like a genii’s lamp, and poured another helping of the purple fluid down the hatch.
“So you say you’ve seen Grayson?” Eric Vega asked as he sat at his desk one rainy, Tuesday afternoon, sifting through various files, his mind distracted from the anxious voice of Benjamin Palmer on the other end of the phone.
“We’d been seeing him all the time a while back. We had all been hanging out again since he started getting his life back into order. Even you’d be proud of him. He looks amazing, nice and thin. But then a couple of weeks ago, he disappeared on us again. He doesn’t email, text, call. Nothing. I’ve even called his work. They told me he’s been let go because he stopped showing up. I’m wondering if I should call the police.”
“Have you gone by his place?” Eric inquired emptily into the phone, the obliviousness showing in his tone.
“Of course. Jorge and I went over to his apartment, but his neighbors claim no one has come in or out of his apartment in weeks. They assume he’s on vacation.”
“I honestly don’t know what you’d like me to do about it.”
“You were his lover, Eric. You messed him up royally.”
“Don’t you go there, Benji. Don’t blame me for Grayson’s problems.”
“Look, I’m not asking for you to pull a rabbit out of your hat, but you could try some sensitivity and pull your head out of your ass and check on him. You owe him that. And don’t call me Benji. I always hated you for that.”
Surprised, Eric finally looked up from his papers. “Fine, I’ll check on Gray if it will get you off the phone.”
At the end of the day, Eric finally dialed Grayson’s number. There was no answer. He tried once more and it just rang and rang. Thinking he’d done enough, he prepared to head out before the storm coming in got any worse.
But as he set about to leave his office, he noticed his keys. They still contained a spare key to Grayson’s apartment. What would it hurt to drop by the apartment? Besides, he figured he’d like to see for himself if Grayson really had gotten his life back on track, and his weight down.
No answer. Eric let himself inside with his key. “I don’t mean to barge in unannounced, but I just wanted to see if you’re okay.”
The apartment was dark, damp and cold as a cave. He had to hold his nose as he maneuvered, because a foul stench saturated the dank air like a locker-room filled with sweaty socks and rotten fruit. He stumbled in the dark, crushing paper and what sounded like aluminum under his feet as he felt around for a light. He managed to grope his way into the kitchen and flipped the switch.
Yellow fluorescence lit up the room in a disorienting half-life. The living room area remained partially masked in shadow, while the kitchen blazed. He had to take several turns and glances to gauge the extent to which the mess he found himself standing in had spread. Under the dining room table, which was now pitched over on its side so that it nestled against the wall like a tent, was a single patch of floor, while the rest remained overgrown with cellophane wrappers and aluminum cans strewn violently; brown stains from soft drinks flowered into the fibers of the carpet like bloodstains.
The kitchen itself was no better, with piles of dishes, and thick with old, moldy food. The basin was rancid with oily water, and a number of glass tumblers were aligned in an odd harmony, a bizarre domino effect, and each one’s mouth was broken, a parade of rows of jagged teeth.
Continuing on, his foot hit against something hard, sending it rolling into a nearby corner. He searched the ground for the culprit and saw, cradled in a nest of candy bar wrappers and egg cartons, a single black bottle. It was the most beautiful bottle he’d ever seen. He knelt down slowly, never minding the sting in his lower back, and scooped up the shimmering bottle. He looked it over carefully. It was a perfect oval with a slender neck. He turned it over and read the label etched elegantly: IMPRESSIVE INSTANTS.
The cap was twisted off and he pressed his nose to the opening and quickly threw the bottle down to the ground, wincing at the stench that flew up his nose like plumes of smoke from a burning building. It mixed with the foul incense of the apartment, turning his stomach. He hunched over, retching, fighting to keep his stomach down, but everywhere he looked was nother filthy display. He stiffened suddenly and stood upright as he heard something shuffling about within the apartment.
It came from the direction of the bedroom. His stomach settled and Eric stepped gingerly over the clutter to enter the hallway. Nervous, he wiped his sweating palms against his new, tailored khakis, but it made no difference. The perspiring persisted.
He braved the darkened door of the bedroom, pushed the closed door open and entered.
The aroma of filth hit him, a swift jab that jilted his senses and caused him to shrink back from the slit of the doorway he divided. He could see straightaway that Grayson’s bed was standing on end up against the window like a barricade.
A small shaft of light stole through, peeking through the top of mangled Venetian blinds, glazing the room in dim, wraith-like phosphorescence. It was enough for him to make out vague shapes but too dark to see clearly what the shapes were.
Standing awkwardly, not quite in but not quite out of the bedroom, one hand to his nose, the other sliding against the wall, Eric felt around, reaching for a light switch he knew was there. But the shambling sound of movement within the room caught him off guard and he reined in his hand as though his fingertips had met fire, and the light remained off.
Something was close. He sensed it at his ankles, a shapeless mass lightly brushing against his leg, its presence prevented from touching him only by the thin cloth between him and the unknown.
The thing in the room slid across the floor in the dark, the shadowy outline of a form shifting and pushing itself upright against a far wall.
“Gray, is that you, babe?”
“Babe?” a voice rasped and bubbled, like a pot of coffee bubbling over. “I didn’t know we were back to the pet name stage.
“Gray, are you okay, you sound…terrible.”
“All things considered,” the voice grated.
“Gray, let me find a light.”
“No! Leave it off. You won’t like seeing me in my…condition.”
“Are you fat again or something? I don’t care about that. Look….Benjamin, he and Jorge have been trying to reach you. We’re worried about you.”
“We’re? How thoughtful of you to insert yourself into the equation.”
“That’s not fair. I do care about you, I just…We’ve been through this. Now let me help you.” Eric stepped forward, but the stink only got heavier further in. “Jesus…what is that smell?”
“The smell grows on you. I don’t even notice it anymore.”
The huddled mass continued to move up the wall, becoming more upright. It shuffled its feet uncontrollably and its bones seemed to crack like wet heels on linoleum. In the vague light, Eric caught the sight of a pair of eyes staring at him, eyes he knew despite the disorientation, were Grayson’s.
“Stop playing games,” Eric said. “I don’t like it.”
“You can leave now; your conscience is clear. You can tell Benjamin and Jorge that I can’t come out to play anymore.”
Eric stepped forward. “Gray, come on, come with me. Let’s get you—”
“No! Stay back. I-I don’t know if I can contain myself. Stay back.”
“Contain? Contain what?”
“Gray, I told you….if you’re fat again, I don’t care. There are places that can help you with that sort of thing.”
“No,” Grayson said and it sounded like something between a laugh and a snarl. The shape that was Grayson ambled forward, propping himself up with what looked like a crutch. “I don’t think that’s possible now.”
Eric felt drops of sweat crawling down his neck, moistening his stiff collar. His vision wavered as Grayson passed through the shaft of light from the blinds, a hunched figure that appeared to be wearing a sheet or trench coat; he couldn’t be sure.
“Grayson,” Eric muttered, feeling for the doorknob. “I’m going to go get help.”
“You’re not listening to me!” Grayson roared as though he were chewing on a mouthful of broken glass and enforced his anger by hobbling forward, covering more distance than Eric found comfortable. “The formula… Caplan, he called them ‘changes’.”
“I called him over, days ago for another order. A trick of course, but I needed to see him, to find out what was happening to me.”
“What, Gray? What is happening to you?”
“Changes…” Grayson hissed. “He promised I’d change. He was not mistaken.”
Grayson shrugged off the trench coat that had covered his body. Even in the faint light, Eric could see the thin outline of Grayson and raised his hand to his mouth, choking back a sudden compulsion to scream.
Eric’s eyes watered and he shuddered as though stricken with a stab of pain in the back of his neck and it clamped his focus in place unyielding and his hands enclosed into a fist, his manicured nails biting his palms. It was no bad dream he could simply pinch himself awake from; it was very real and shambling toward him on stiff legs, the definition of calves and thighs indiscernible from the creaking stalks.
This shriveled, sallow creature slouching in front of him was a virulent husk of a man, naked and enveloped in a lacerated field of scourged flesh. The creature’s eyes stared wide and unblinking. Eric couldn’t be sure, but they appeared lidless and manic. Dried blood wormed into the folds of curdled wrinkles under the bloodless orbs. The skin contoured to Grayson’s face like a decomposing head bound tight in plastic wrap; spade-edged cheekbones forced their way through the caving mounds.
Eric could see what looked like bite marks amidst patches of dried wounds running up and down his forearms. The nipples on Grayson’s chest were gaping bullet holes and the pectorals hung low like deflating balloons.
The sparse patches of unmarred flesh shone to near transparency in the faint lamination and as Eric’s eyes traveled down the atrocity of his former lover’s body, a spray of vomit erupted from between his lips and hit the floor.
He closed his eyes, gasping and wheezing, unable to rid the sight of Grayson’s groin, near sexless as a Ken doll; the genatalia savaged with only the bloated scrotum crudely encased by bandages stained black with blood, hanging like a rotted gourd between his thighs.
Grayson began coughing up bile into the air. “Something happened….a mutation…..caused my cells to cannibalize themselves!” he cried. “And now it is not just eating my cells, but every organ is feeding on itself.”
Eric realized that Grayson looked as though he might topple over. He leaned forward, gasping, air lodged in his throat. Eric’s arms thrust out instinctive to thwart the creature’s perilous advance, but the wet touch of naked skin cracking audibly against the palms of his hands loosened a squeal he’d been resisting since he was sick in the kitchen.
Grayson’s parchment-like fingers crawled up Eric’s cheeks, clutching for balance, the membranous skin between the fingers tearing and splaying his hands like bloody fans. Eric fumbled backwards, lost his footing and went down to the dark carpet as Grayson’s strange assemblage of flesh ridden limbs collapsed on top of him.
How many years had it been since they’d lain just like this? Tumbling over one another, each one resisting the other in a frantic game in which Eric had always proved the stronger, pressing Grayson onto his back with a sly grin carved on his face.
Eric’s back tensed under the touch of Grayson’s fingers slipping under Eric’s shirt and drumming along the sharp V of his chiseled torso. He wanted to get out of the bedroom; out of the house. He had already left Gray once, why on earth did he come back?
“I want to turn on the lights. Let me get up, Gray,” Eric said, twisting slightly in an attempt to wriggle free.
“Not until I tell you about what I’ve done,” Grayson said, pushing his mouth to Eric’s shirt and taking a long, deep, sniff. “He’s part of what you smell…”
“Who? Who do I smell?” Eric still struggled against Grayson’s restraints. “Let me go.”
Grayson laughed, his body rising into a rigid arc. Eric took advantage of the moment and pushed Grayson away, crawling up onto his feet and skirted along the wall. The smell hit him again like a diesel truck, shoving him against the bedroom door and closing it shut. Eric fumbled to find the light switch, but he was confronted with Grayson, who for all his frailty, was somehow beside him again.
“He did this horrible thing to me.” Grayson snarled. “Me and who knows how many others.”
“Grayson, we have to go, we have to get you to a hospital. For god’s sakes, let me turn on the light.”
Grayson didn’t seem to hear him.
“We can get you help.” Eric urged. “You’re still alive. They can--” He finally found the light switch, flipped it, and the room was suddenly visible. And then, for the first, time, he saw Grayson.
Grayson took a step forward and Eric saw something fall from his leg and hit the floor with a very distinct flop.
“Jesus Christ,” Eric gagged, cupping his mouth, resisting the urge to vomit again, eyes wide and stinging, but unable to look away from what lay on the floor. A piece of what was once Grayson had fallen off his thigh, like a six-ounce steak.
Eric couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “You’re rotting all the way through!”
“No doctor can help me now.” Grayson said, slamming a hand against the wall, wiry, purple veins showing through cracked, translucent skin. “There is only the demon.”
“That’s not true,” Eric gagged. “I can get you help. Let me go. I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
But Grayson was blocking the way out, in-between Eric and the door.
“You’ve always promised.” Grayson’s feet oozed blood as he staggered forward. Eric looked over Grayson’s shoulder and spied the corner of Grayson’s room, a bizarre altar of a dozen or more Impressive Instant bottles encircling a mangled, bloody lump on the floor. A man’s corpse lay amid a collection of shredded clothes with a pair of silver cutting shears protruding from the figure’s back. A mauve-colored necktie was looped through the shears’ handles.
“All my years watching sci-fi monster flicks…Now I’ve become one.”
“Grayson,” Eric whispered, his voice lost in the dark corner of his throat. “Please let me out of the room.”
Ignoring that, Grayson continued, “I just wanted to be perfect, the way you wanted me to be.”
“Get back,” Eric said, trying to slide around the monster towards the door. But Grayson was still blocking any escape as he was moving even closer, the light catching something fierce in the glassy sheen of his bloodless pupils.
In desperation, Eric reached lunged past Grayson and reached the doorknob. He pulled it, but it wouldn’t open. How had it locked? He screamed, “This isn’t my fault, Grayson! I won’t let you blame me for this!”
Grayson’s voice cut like ice picks. “You never took responsibility for anything.”
Eric’s eyes dodged from Grayson to the window, to the mass surrounded by shiny black bottles. He saw the silver shears, so close. If he could only be quick enough to grab them and fend Grayson off long enough to get out of the apartment, but Grayson was inching closer, a flesh-eating virus on two legs.
Eric could feel his bladder start to loosen. He tried to move towards the window, but somehow Grayson was quicker, clutching Eric at the shoulders and leaning into the man’s trembling face. Eric whimpered as though all his childhood nightmares were personified and amassed in front of him. He wet himself at the musky scent of Grayson’s breath, redolent of mausoleums. Death was here, standing with an open, yearning mouth.
“But the one thing I discovered early on…the hunger suppressants… didn’t work. In fact, my hunger’s grown beyond myself. I’m so hungry, Eric.”
“God! Gray, please!”
But the savage mouth closed in around him.
After several minutes, Eric’s body ceased grunting, the last few flickers in his dying nerves kicking and fading like a dying candle. Grayson arranged pieces of him, gnawed and gnashed around his altar of black bottles. He caressed their necks, a filmy coating of the fluid sticky and gummed along the bottle’s body. He had got his revenge against the two people who had hurt him the most.
The demon churned inside of him, ferocious and strong. It was in his cells now, feeding, forever feeding. Maybe it was never Impressive Instants at all. Maybe it had always been him and his demon, feeding on one another.
He took the shears from Caplan’s remains and set them to work on his own flesh, snipping a short, plump tendril of his inner thigh. It came away easily, almost without the need for the shears, like a fleshy slice of an orange.
It’ll never fill me up, the demon thought to himself as he gulped on an oily slice of his own flesh, grinding it between his teeth as he’d done many times in the past weeks, before setting about to remove a second, tender chunk out of his forearm.
David Alan Hernandez is a native-born Texan currently working on his bachelor’s degree in creative writing/education. His work can be found published in various online horror and fantasy Ezines including The Harrow, Sonar4, Flashes in The Dark, The New Flesh, Sex and Murder, Microhorror and the college literary journal, The Rio Review.
In addition to a number of other projects, he is currently keeping a blog at www.truthiscreation.blogspot.com showcasing a dark fantasy web novel, "Dividing Canaan: The Journals of Canaan Quintanilla."
Excerpt from Truth is Creation:
The shingles are always coming off the roof and when it rains the cracks in the ceiling bloat and leak. I’ve always thought this place was haunted.