We all have a little devil inside just dying to get out.
Darling Munroe was in no way considered a likable person. He had a mean streak that made him do things even the most despicable of men would not do. His father disowned him, and his mother couldn't bear to hear his name without breaking down. So it was hard to believe Darling felt he was the only person alive who could save mankind. Yet, that's what he thought as he crossed the Nevada state line doing 110 MPH, his car weaving crazily as he strained his neck looking up at the sky through a sun-glared windshield.
In the distance, he could just make out the strange reflection of the alien craft as it crossed above the desert floor. It wavered in-and-out of view like an apparition, resembling a giant eye you could see when opened, yet disappeared when it blinked closed.
Strangling the steering wheel of his Ford Mustang, Munroe stomped the accelerator, forcing his rifle and ammunition to slide across the front seat and clatter to the floorboard. "I've got you now, you son-of-a-bitch!"
Las Vegas was one hundred miles away; it would take Munroe less than an hour to get there, but by then, it might be too late.
He first saw the Eye as he had stepped out of Barney's Beanery on Santa Monica Blvd. in downtown Hollywood. It was a regular haunt for him now that he had quit drugs. The booze helped deaden his urges, but Munroe had noticed it was taking more and more to get the job done.
That night, as usual, he was brooding over the what-might-have-been, versus the what-might-never-be. At this stage of his life, he really didn't have much going on. He was twenty-five, and had no job, no family, and a girlfriend who was strung-out on cocaine. It hadn't helped that both his parents died last year in a small plane crash while on vacation in the Bahamas, but the topper hit him last week, when his best friend, Scot, committed suicide. Munroe felt as aimless as an escaped balloon, but instead of grief, he felt an anger over the fact they had all chosen that particular moment in his life to bail on him. Nevertheless, the sun continued to rise on Darling Munroe, even as he watched his life slip into the sunset with a fuzzy blur. But all that was about to change. Even as the bartender cut him off for the night, there were events shaping outside that were going to give him a whole new outlook on life.
He staggered out of the crowded bar grumbling, and fumbling in his pocket for his keys. It was hot for 1 AM, hot and humid. He scanned the parking lot for his car when he felt a crushing weight press him flat to the sidewalk. It was as if the sky itself had become solid, and was no longer able to hold itself up. Then it came crashing down on him. He twitched around on his back like a dying insect, gasping for breath as the very air in his body was sucked from his lungs.
Looking up, he saw it.
It was a mile wide, hovering over the city as if it were the Eye of God. In fact, that's what Munroe thought he was looking at -- the eye of God peeking down from the heavens.
The Eye was the milky color of moonstone, devoid of iris or pupil, and flowed like an opaque whirlpool, an oculus swirling within a different dimension. A wave of panic crawled over his skin like a million ants traversing the tender parts of his brain. He could feel the Eye seethe with a force that was against all nature, hideous and perverted, sentient and destructive. Then it opened . . . and all hell broke loose.
The intense flash of light emanating from the Eye violated Munroe's mind, peeled it, as if it were an onion. Turning away in pain, he threw his arms across his face to protect his eyes. But the damage had already been done, his vision swam and spun, his stomach lurched, until he puked all over himself. Helpless to do anything to resist, he watched the splatter of his own vomit run down his shirt and jeans, and then flow along the sidewalk.
Like a live wire, his body shook, trembled and thrashed. Sweat poured off his head, and soaked the back of his neck. When the worst of it was over, and he felt a semblance of normality, he sat up with his feet in the gutter and released a heavy pent-up breath he had not been aware he was holding. He rubbed at his eye sockets with the palms of his hands. "What the hell just happened?"
Trying to focus, he looked toward the sky, but there was nothing there. The heavens were normal, black, and pocked with stars. He shook his head to clear it, then wiped the disgusting spittle from his mouth. When his vision began to clear, he realized he was utterly alone. The streets were empty. There were no sounds . . . no cars . . . no people.
Darling tried to rationalize what had happened. He thought that perhaps someone had slipped something into his drink. A bad joke. "You'll be all right in a minute," he thought, "just ride it out."
He looked up and down the street . . . nothing. "Where the hell is everybody?"
His mind felt centered at the still point of the earth, like the eye of a hurricane -- the past and future gathered into one moment. He could see miles of colored streetlights choked by vines of electric wire and hanging down like blossoming fruit from right-angled trees of steel and metal. The huge buildings leaned in toward him like solemn mountains with large squared-shoulders and vertical cliffs. Everything appeared luminous, like in a dream -- a nightmare.
Just then, a gust of hot wind blew down the road sending dust and pieces of paper twirling into the air. From far away came the noise of many voices screaming. They sounded like an angry crowd chanting in a lost brutal language. With it arose the unnatural feeling of being watched. It stirred the short hairs on the back of his neck and made his bowels quiver as a growing pressure built inside his head like a bucket too full to hold one more drop of water.
He experienced a vivid memory. The memory of the day he buried Scot Talbort, his best friend. Why'd you die on me you son-of-a-bitch? I counted on you -- needed you. In an emotional fever, Munroe broke down and began to bawl like a child. What the hell's happening to you, Darling? What's this all about?
Scot had committed suicide.
He drove his car off a cliff on Mulholland Drive. The police report said it was an accident, but Munroe knew better. He saw it coming long before it ever happened, but did nothing to prevent it.
He blamed everyone but himself. He blamed Marion Pinkly, the fourteen-year-old girl who had died from an over-dose of drugs he and Scot had sold her in the parking lot of Wawona Middle School. He remembered the media plastering her picture all over the TV for a week as a reminder to other kids to JUST SAY NO!. But that was what Scot and Munroe did. They sold drugs -- a lot of drugs -- to anybody who had enough money to buy them.
But after Marion's death, Scot started to change.
He stayed high, using his own product, hardly ever speaking at all. Then he refused to leave his room, which he had covered with aluminum foil: the walls, the ceiling, even his head. When Munroe got up enough nerve to ask him about it, all he said was it was because of Marion Pinkly.
"What's the matter, bro, you trying to keep away the aliens?"
"It's her! That little girl! She's inside my head! She speaks to me inside my fuckin' head!"
After that, Darling never mentioned it again. He was worried, knew he should call someone, but he didn't. In fact, he didn't do anything except distance himself from Scot. Later, when he heard the news about Scot's death, he realized that he had let it happen.
The tragic loss taught Munroe that Death was always close by. Whether people knew it or not, Death made a constant vigil on the living . . . watching . . . waiting. The realization turned Munroe's life around, and he cleaned up his act. He never sold or used drugs again. He told himself he quit for his parents, for Marion Pinkly, for Scot. But he did it because he was scared -- scared shitless.
A car was approaching; its dull headlights like two yellow eyes creeping down the street. It was a red Jeep Cherokee. It looked exactly like the one Scot used to drive. As it neared, he noticed it had the same dent in the left front fender; the same stupid Jack-In-The-Box head that swayed back-and-forth on the antenna like a deranged snowman.
Munroe's skin prickled.
When the car drove by he saw a familiar face poke out of the driver's side window, a familiar grin -- one from which at least a half dozen teeth were missing. Scot sat in the driver's seat, ashen-skinned, sunken eyes, with a gaping wound dragging at the side of his face.
"Scot?" Darling's jaw fell slack. "Hey, Scot?" The car continued to move slowly down the street.
"Hey, man, pull over! Stop the car!"
Scot shoved his arm out the window and flipped him off.
Munroe stood up on unstable legs, took a few shaky steps after the red Cherokee as his eyes followed the retreating taillights. "Scot! Scot!"
His head began to throb; it pounded like a bullet ricocheting inside his skull. He felt completely disoriented and desperately needed to talk to someone -- anyone. Stumbling from the street, he headed back into the bar thinking again that perhaps someone had slipped something in his drink and all he wanted to know was what it was, and then they could all sit down together and have a big laugh.
When he entered the bar, it was empty. The noisy crowd that had been there moments ago were nowhere to be found. The candles, still lit at the tables, reflected dim buttery light off the walls and ceiling making them appear to tremble like painted curtains. There was no one at the booths, no one at the bar, not even the bartender.
"Anybody here?" The vacant room sucked in the question and gave nothing back.
He walked to the end of the bar, opened the gate that led to the small work-space behind it, and grabbing a bottle of rum, poured himself a drink. At the far end of the bar, the cash register hung open, and he saw all the greenbacks bulging from it. What he did next was the history of his life, his soul, it defined him as a human being. Without a second thought, he slipped over to the register and started grabbing handfuls of money and shoving the bills into his front pockets.
There was movement at the edge of his vision, and he jumped back startled, his mind already whirling with a variety of excuses as to why he was behind the bar even as some of the money slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor.
It was Marion Pinkly.
She stared at him from behind pasty skin and hate-filled eyes that bulged from their sockets like ping-pong balls; her dirty matted hair stuck together with patches of wet earth and slime. Dribbles of thick, dark goo ran out of her nose and down into her mouth like some kind of diseased snot. Lifting her arm, she pointed an accusing finger at Munroe, tried to speak. "I . . . ggghhh . . . youuu." She spoke garbled words like a mute, her tongue rolling around in her mouth as if she were trying to swallow it.
"Keep away from me!" Munroe screamed, as he backed away in horror. Then the heel of his shoe caught on the floor mat and he tripped and fell over backwards hitting his head on a shelf that rattled with glasses and liquor bottles.
Trying to shake it off, he recoiled, unable to turn and run, and pressed his spine against the lower part of the liquor cabinet. Reluctant to look away, he locked eyes with the approaching girl. He discovered that during his struggle with the floor mat, she had taken another step toward him and blocked his only exit from behind the bar.
"Stay back, goddammit! You're not real!"
She jerked forward, as if someone else were controlling her body, until she stood directly over him. Munroe squealed like a trapped pig, curled into a ball, his arms covering his head, his legs kicking out blindly.
But nothing happened.
He opened his eyes. Marion was gone.
Struggling to his knees, he cautiously peeked over the top of the bar. No one. "Where are you?" He scanned the entire room -- nothing. "That's it. I'm outta here!"
He quickly snatched up the rest of the money, and then noticed a roll of aluminum foil under the bar. Thinking of what Scot had told him, he desperately tore off a large sheet and pressed it firmly down over his head, then hurried outside toward his car.
The Los Angeles streets and highways were deserted, and Munroe made it home in record time. As he pulled in front of his house, he saw the front door hanging wide open.
He and Beth had lived together for over a year. She was gorgeous and gave Munroe everything he wanted in a woman. He convinced himself that she needed him, but it was more the other way around. He knew if he did not supply her with the large amounts of cocaine she used, she would go find it somewhere else. True love.
He ran to the front door. "Beth? Beth, where are you?"
The scent of fresh baked cookies filled the doorway. The last time he smelled anything like it was when he lived at home with his parents.
He made his way through the living room and entered the kitchen. Hundreds of chocolate chip cookies were spread in neat little lines all over the table, the counters and the floor. His dead mother was just pulling another tray from the oven.
"Darling, you're home early." She wore her favorite blue dress and white apron, both heavily sprinkled with flour. "I baked you some cookies, dear." She approached him offering the tray, her eyes the color of pus and infection.
Munroe backed away. "No! You're . . . dead."
"Dead?" A sour look crossed her face. "Oh, Darling, please tell me you and that terrible Scot haven't been taking drugs again?"
"No, Mom, I stopped doing drugs after you died!"
From behind, someone smacked him hard in the back of the head knocking off his aluminum cap. "Don't you dare lie to your mother, you piece of crap!"
Munroe spun around. "Dad?"
"Don't call me that! You're no son of mine, that's for damn sure. Have you no shame . . . selling drugs to school kids? Who the hell do you think you are?" He was livid as he stared down at Munroe with yellow eyes, his face flushed and bright red as if he were about to have a stroke. "Don't try to deny it, asshole. We know all about you and how you make your money."
"Oh, Darling, how could you?" his mother whined, tears streaming down her face.
"Now look what you've done!" his father yelled. "Get out of here before I do something you'll regret."
"But this is my house. Where's Beth?"
"Get out!" His father raised his hand as if to strike him again. Munroe scrambled to his feet smashing and grinding cookies into the linoleum. He grabbed his tin-foil cap and ran for the door.
Outside, he stood by his car, thankful for the night air. As an afterthought, he replaced his aluminum headgear and looked above him. The Eye shone brightly in the sky, moving east across the heavens. "Well, I'll be . . . there you are!"
Munroe jumped into his car and took off after it.
He chased the craft through LA and out into the desert until he ran low on gas, and then pulled off of Highway 15 at a small town called Victorville, filled his car, and emptied the cash register at the gas station. Across the street, he saw an old gun shop and jogged over.
He knew he'd need something big, something with knockdown power. There was an old .450 Martini Henry six-bore elephant gun on display in a jungle setting; he grabbed it and several boxes of ammunition. As he walked to the door, he noticed a pearl-handled Colt in a glass case. Munroe had to have it. He smashed the glass with the butt of the rifle and stuck the .45 in his waistband then ran back out to his car. As he threw the rifle and ammunition onto the front passenger seat, he noticed a red Cherokee speeding toward him. Munroe didn't hesitate. He jumped inside his car and slammed the door just as Scot went roaring by.
"You wanna play, huh, asshole?" Munroe cranked the engine, slammed the car into gear and peeled-out after Scot, but the Cherokee was nowhere to be found. Looking back in the rear-view mirror, he turned onto the freeway entrance and took off after bigger prey.
In the distance, he could just make out the strange reflection of the alien craft as it crossed above the desert floor. It wavered in-and-out of view like an apparition, resembling a giant eye you could see when opened; yet disappeared when it blinked closed.
Munroe strangled the steering wheel of his Ford Mustang, as he strained his neck to look up through the windshield to get a bearing on the ship. "I've got you now, you son-of-a-bitch!"
Las Vegas was one hundred miles away; it would take Munroe less than an hour to get there, but by then, it might be too late.
He stomped the accelerator.
The sun was back-a hard bright sun that layered itself like paint over the flat desert floor. The Eye glistened in the sky ahead of him like a Mylar blimp. He continued to follow it. Forty-five minutes later, he entered Las Vegas.
The Eye slowly moved down the Strip. Munroe saw its bright light bathe each casino and then stop over The Stardust as if it were waiting for him to catch up. Braking hard, he brought the car to a screeching halt in the middle of the street. "Now what, Munroe?" he said in a thin voice. "What do you think you're gonna do?"
He hung his head out of the window and looked up at the ship. It hovered silently above him. He knew he couldn't just sit there, eternally paralyzed, waiting for the world to end, but he was too afraid to do anything else. Glancing down, he saw the rifle. He grabbed the barrel and pulled it toward him. The feel of the gun bolstered his courage; quickly he loaded it, climbed out of the car and rested the gun upon the roof of the Mustang. Bracing himself, he took careful aim. Munroe was not an expert shooter; in fact, he had never fired a gun before in his life, and this one was old, real old. He clicked off the safety, aimed dead center of the Eye and slowly squeezed the trigger.
The gun exploded.
Munroe found himself on the ground, partially blinded by the blast. His ears rang and his shoulder ached and throbbed. The gun lay shattered in pieces ten feet away. He scrambled to his feet looking up at the sky.
The Eye wobbled like a top out of spin, careening closer to the ground as it tried to right itself. It opened its lens, and then everything went wrong.
Munroe's car rattled and shook. He backed away just as the Mustang shot into the sky. The rifle floated away and his hat of aluminum flew out of sight. Anything made of metal was being sucked into the sky. Munroe firmly gripped the pearl-handled Colt and ran for the casino. He stood just inside panting hard, legs trembling, and looking at row after row of slot machines. There was no one around as electric machine bells rang and their bright lights dazzled his vision.
He felt watched again, and as he spun around he saw the murderous red steel of Scot's speeding Cherokee barreling down on him.
The glass doors exploded into flying shards and twisted pieces of metal, as the Jeep came roaring into the lobby and slammed into the bank of slots where, mere moments ago, Darling had been standing.
Scot looked at him through the cracked windshield, laughing his ass off. He opened the car door, amidst the noise of settling glass and stepped out. "Hello, Munroe, did ya miss me?"
Munroe, eyes wide with terror, didn't hang around to answer. He dropped down behind the machines, and in a low crouch, crawled frantically on his hands and knees between the maze of dinging machines and broken glass trying desperately to distance himself from his dead friend. Scot slammed the car door, his body jerking as erratic as a puppet, and followed.
The carpet was soft and plush, not even the whisper of a footstep could be heard as row after row of slots finally emptied out into the main casino. Munroe scurried under a craps table and hid, his heart hammering and gasping for more air. Leaning his back against the thick walnut leg, he pulled the gun from his waistband. The weight of it felt good in his hand.
He found it impossible to sit still while the sheer terror of the situation kept forcing him to take action. He felt an overwhelming urge to bolt, to take off running through the casino like the devil was after him. The thought danced at the edge of his mind. Unable to hide any longer, he decided to take a chance. Cautiously, he lifted his head ever so slightly to peek over the top of the table.
Scot was above him, standing on the table waiting. He grabbed a fist full of Munroe's hair and yanked him onto the gaming green with unbelievable strength. He bent him back, forcing Munroe to look into his face. "I'm gonna eat your heart buddy. Eat it up!" He barked with laughter, spitting into Munroe's face, his yellow eyes shining with the sickening hue of a festering wound, his mouth reeking of rotting flesh. "Dying hurts, Munroe. It really hurts a lot."
In one fluid motion, Scot raised his arm behind him, shaped his hand like the head of a snake, and with a heavy, forceful thrust, pierced Munroe's chest.
A loud oomph escaped Munroe's lips as the breath gushed out of him and he soiled himself. He went rigid, unable to move or breathe.
"You've been chosen, my friend."
He could feel Scot's hand working inside his body as he talked, pushing organs aside as he searched out his heart. And then he was there. Munroe could feel his cold hard grasp on his most vital organ. His eyes bulged, his mouth gaped, his lips trembled in utter astonishment. There wasn't even time to groan before the claw-like hand gripped his heart and tugged.
Munroe felt the ripping and tearing of tissue, his flesh cried out with pain.
"Don't think too badly of me, Munroe. A guys gotta eat, right?"
There was a final tug as Munroe's legs twitched uncontrollably.
"Ah, here we are . . ."
He heard a snap, and then a loud sucking sound as Scot pulled his hand free of Munroe's chest. In his blood soaked hand beat Munroe's heart.
"Want some? It's so fresh it hardly knows it's dead."
A moan softly escaped Munroe's lips. He curled himself into a ball and shuddered. He could move again, and he still held the gun.
Scot greedily fed upon his heart. Munroe could hear him chewing, slurping, smacking his lips. "Man, you really gotta try this."
Munroe turned away in disgust, felt cold and empty inside as if he could still feel Scot's hand moving inside of him. Why am I still alive? His brain screamed at him-The gun! The gun! Shoot the son-of-a-bitch!
Scot was over him again, wet blood smeared across his face. He sat on Munroe's chest, and then roughly grabbed him by the jaw. "Come on, dude, try some. It'll make things a whole lot easier for ya if you do." Scot proffered the half-eaten heart, but Munroe locked his jaw and refused to bite into it.
"Oh, so you're gonna be that way about it, huh?" he ripped a chunk off and chewed it. "I guess we'll have to do it the hard way."
With both hands, he forced Munroe's mouth open, bent over him as if he wanted to kiss, and then spit the meat into his mouth. Munroe saw the ropey pink strings of saliva hanging from Scot's lips, felt the warm chunk of his own flesh fill his mouth.
Scot whispered into his ear, "Welcome to my world, pal."
The taste of his own blood filled his mouth. He tried desperately to spit out the hot runny flesh that ran to the back of his throat, but Scot held his mouth closed.
Munroe choked, swallowed.
It burned his chest and throat as it went down. He felt his stomach clench. He struggled to get Scott off him, knew he was going to be sick.
The dead man laughed at his effort, and then released him. "You're one of us now, buddy!"
Munroe rolled onto his side and puked. His mind kept chanting, The gun! The gun!
Finally the thought clicked home. Munroe sat up, pointed the shiny silver Colt pointblank into Scot's face and pulled the trigger.
The loud ‘BANG!' took the top of Scot's head off. He stumbled over backwards, fell off the table, and slammed into a bank of slots. The wheels of the Lucky 7 machine spun wildly as his headless body slipped to the floor, twitching and rolling on the carpet as if a surge of high voltage ran through him. Three sevens locked across the center bar of the machine, and a pile of quarters dropped into the tray with a loud repetitive "ka-ching-ka-ching-ka-ching".
Then Scot lay still.
Munroe spit remnants of blood from his mouth and unsteadily climbed off the craps table. He dropped the gun to the floor. He staggered, leaned into the table. His body ached all over, trembled with chills. A gut-wrenching spasm took him and he grabbed his stomach while trying to steady himself. His vision swam. "What's happening to me?"
He heard voices then, thousands of people screaming from inside his head. He covered his ears with his hands trying to block them out. "What in hell is happening to me?"
Scot's foot wiggled.
Munroe watched in horror as his dead friend's ruined body twitched, and then stood up. Blood and chunks of skull oozed down the front of his shirt. He shook, arms flailing about as if he were a scarecrow caught in the wind.
Then Munroe saw something moving inside Scot's chest. Two claw-like hands worked their way up out of his neck, grabbed the collarbone on either side and ripped downward. The body separated squarely down the middle with the sound of tearing tissue and splintering bones. A small creature clawed his way out, shedding Scot's body as if it were bloody clothing.
He was a dwarfish thing, a monstrosity, with misplaced eyes and rotting, cheesy skin, hairless with long pointed ears and eyes that shone with yellow radiance. It wiped the blood from its face like a cat cleaning itself. He looked at Munroe and gave him a cunning grin like a mischievous child just caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Thanks for the snack."
Munroe quickly bent to pick up the gun. The creature laughed and bolted with incredible speed over the tops of the slot machines. With a final hideous laugh, he ran through the broken front doors of the casino and out into the street.
Munroe watched the madness through eyelids too heavy to lift. He stood upon shaky legs, weaving to and fro like a charmed snake, his face frozen in bewilderment. With a strange aching sadness, he realized there was no end to agony.
His body convulsed and he crumbled to the floor in a ball as some unnamed evil worked its way through him and mutating his guts. He stared up with dilated, glazing eyes, his hands clawing at his stomach, his lips slobbering. He felt the sting of burning skin, and helplessly watched as it peeled away and turned a mottled gray. Then in utter anguish, his stature diminished and his spine bent forward forcing him to hunch like a misshapen hobgoblin. His fingers and toes grew long sharp talons. Munroe painfully shifted from human form into a hairless dark horror with a mouth full of frothing and gnashing teeth.
But he started to feel better, stronger than ever before, as if this were his true form, what he had been searching to become his whole life.
Marion Pinkly softly and silently approached, her eyes blazing yellow. In his mind he heard her say, "Welcome, Munroe." She grinned wickedly, and then laughed, her mouth stretching and gaping wide. From inside, Munroe saw the partial features of a little imp; it winked at him knowingly.
In his head he again heard her graveled and raunchy voice, "There is a little devil in all of us, Munroe, struggling to get out, some more than others. We are a heartless body, callous and cruel, pitiless and unkind. You are like us, no more than a devil in human form. We have come to take you home."
She looked back over her shoulder. "Hurry now, the ship is waiting." Abruptly she turned and ran for the door. "Welcome home, Darling Munroe, welcome to Hell!"