Amon and James are walking down a darkened street. Amon is huddled in his small jacket, his small shoulders shaking a little.
AMON: Fuck, it’s getting colder.
JAMES: I hadn’t noticed.
AMON: Well, some of us aren’t crazy.
JAMES: I wish you’d quit with that.
NARRATION: When you say that, I feel like maybe it’s true.
AMON: Sorry. Just had one too many.
JAMES: You always have one too many.
The pair turn a corner, onto a back street. It’s a narrow passageway, traveling tightly between two buildings. The streets are cobblestone and are filled with various pieces of garbage. Paper floats meaninglessly across the ground before them. It’s poorly lit, a single street lamp glows at either end; one beside James and Amon, a tall warding sentinel. The other stands equally tall, a guardian of the gate. They stop, and survey the dark road before them.
AMON: Cherry. You should take a photo or something, to reference later. This is your kind of back alley.
JAMES: There’s no “my kind” of alley, Amon. James lights a cigarette.
AMON: Just saying, it looks like something you’d draw.
NARRATION: It does, doesn’t it…?
JAMES: We should go around. Amon turns and looks up at him.
AMON: What?! That’s crazy talk. You cracking on me again? He grins, looking vaguely goblinish beneath the sickly yellow glow of the streetlamp. James inhales deeply, keeping his eyes on the alley.
JAMES: It doesn’t look safe. Amon snorts with laughter.
AMON: Jimmy…it’s just a back road. Your imagination is running away with you again, you crazy fuck.
JAMES(harshly): Stop fucking calling me crazy! Amon takes a step back, looking at him wearily.
AMON: Dude. Chill. Kidding.
JAMES: Dude. Not. Fucking. Funny. They stand and stare at each other for a moment. Amon shakes his head.
AMON: I don’t think I’ve heard you say the F-bomb before. James does not reply. He looks back down the alley.
JAMES: Doesn’t look safe.
The pause returns. The wind blows past them, hard, sending a swirling of garbage up into the air like a tiny hurricane. Amon looks up at James, and shakes his head.
AMON: Jesus, you’re trying to put the frights into me, huh? Well, jokes on you, my boy! He begins to step into the alley, out of the light.
JAMES: Amon, stop!
Amon pays no heed to James’ warning. He steps fully out of the light, taking hurried steps towards the other end, not looking back. He hunches his shoulders, seemingly shrinking even smaller in the shadows, his small steps quickening by the moment.
JAMES: Amon, stop right there, right now. Do not move another step.
Amon turns and looks at James, now visibly getting angry.
AMON: Alright, cut the shit, James. It ain’t cute no more! Your spook stories might sell copies and make girls weak in the knees, but not me! I’m a professional! He turns to go, and sees a pale white arm disappear into the shadows, so quickly he can’t be sure it was there at all.
AMON(muttering): Jesus, I’m seeing things now.
Another growl, more audible. Amon stops in the center of the alley, frozen. He hears it again, seemingly closer this time. Or is it his imagination? He turns, wide-eyed back to where he saw the arm, and sees nothing. Or does he? Is that the vauge shape of a man, creeping down the side of the alley, stalking like some sort of wild beast? A hunter? The shadow is stooped, hunched, it’s arms hanging at it’s side with a grotesque disproportion. Why is it’s arm so LONG?
AMON: U-uh…okay, who’s there? James…?
He turns back, looking at his starting point.
It is empty, just the lone sentinel standing mournfully, it’s light even more dimmed now- as if in apology. Or pity. It begins to flicker erratically, insanely. Amon blinks, staring at it, and then looks back to his left, towards that long-limbed THING that is stalking him. He clamps his eyes shut, his breathing quickens. He shakes, involuntarily, unwilling to show the fear that is coursing through him. He imagines he can sense he’s about to die. Whoever…whatever…is in that dark is going to kill him. It is going to end his life. He will never have sex with his ex-wife every third Thursday, he will never write another children’s novel- no more thinly veiled sexual references in novels for pre-teens, no more binges, no more smokes.
AMON: James…look, this isn’t funny. Okay? I’m sorry, yeah?! I’m sorry I made fun of you. I’m sorry I called you crazy. Cut it out.
A growl in response, now on his other side. He hears a trash can tumble over, crashing loudly to the cobblestone. He jumps, vice-grips his eyes shut again. With trembling hands he fishes a cigarette free, and then lights it. The lighter flickers twice, it’s protesting sounds are overly loud and jarring in the ever encroaching black that surrounds him. It’s like a living thing, he thinks, closing in on him. His nerve endings scream “Ambush! Run, you fool, run!” but his body will not move. It will not obey. He is abandoned, but he is not alone. He’s sure of it now.
A scraping against brick. Like fingernails scratches. He drops his cigarette to the ground from his trembling fingers, and kneels to pick it up. The sentinel flickers out, and Amon lets out a small moan. He hears them closer now, almost scampering. He hears breathing, now, labored and hungry. It sounds like a dog in heat.
AMON: Please. Please, look…I have money. Let me get it for you, okay? James, if this is you scaring me.
James appears in the shadows, his face pale. His eyes are white, like the creatures.
JAMES: What’s to scared of, Amon? It’s just In my head. Two creatures flank him, looking down at Amon, smiling predatorily, gleeful.
AMON: Oh, Jesus…
JAMES: Nah. James.
Suddenly, from behind, a pale white claw rakes at Amon’s back, like a cat swiping at a small mouse. Playful, not the killing blow yet. Amon collapses with a shriek, and lies there, weeping.
AMON: James, please…I’m sorry!
JAMES: It’s not me, Amon.
CREATURES(in unison): We kill…for you…to be…free.
JAMES: I still don’t understand.
White forms, blurs, duck and weave in and out of the shadows. More and more come, seemingly endless, emerging as if from a clown car. They gibber and laugh, they scrape and growl. They roar, and they giggle. Amon can only lie there, weeping, moaning. He would pray, but words will not come. There is no God here.
One of the creatures slashes his leg with one long bony claw. Warm blood seeps through Amon’s jeans leg. It’s still so red, even in the dark. One of the beasts goes down on all fours and laps at it like an unfed cat. Amon cannot even scream. One of the creatures clambers onto his back, seemingly weightless. Amon makes me sounds of protest, no grunts of exertion as the creature places it’s bony hands on his shoulders, it’s knees into his back. One of the hands caresses his face, gently, like a lover or a parent. Amon shudders and weeps, tears running freely down his chubby cheeks.
A claw cuts below his chin, shallow, barely penetrating. There’s a giggle mixed with the sound of Amon’s bleating. The back-riding creature slowly drags it’s clawed finger to it’s right, circling around the fleshy face of it’s prey. Blood trickles and drips, pooling below them on the cold ground. Droplets of rain sprinkle now, pattering against the road, against the trash cans.
A horrid row of sharp teeth bite off two of Amon’s fingers, which frightens his voice from it’s hiding place. He shrieks with pain and terror now, sounding like a lamb to the slaughter. The creature on his back continues it’s work, now completing a circle around Amon’s face.
JAMES(turning away): Why? Why do this? He’s my friend!
CREATURES: No friends. No love. Just kill. We kill for you.
JAMES: I don’t ask you to. I don’t want you to. Especially not him, he’s done nothing…
Amon shrieks at the creature gently slides it’s two index-finger claws beneath the flap of skin it has begun creating. The claws curve, like a hook, and begin to tear the rubbery flesh from the head of his victim. Amon’s voice breaks and flaters, his screams unheard.
JAMES: God damn it…leave him alone! Stop this! I don’t want him dead, I wanted him to believe!
CREATURES: He believes. Much belief.
Amons face is removed. Blood pools around him. He stares at it with bare eyes, and thinks. He thinks it’s a lot of blood. He absent-mindedly wonders if someone is hurt. If someone needs help. In this moment, Amon Keystone thinks of someone else for the first time in his life. He looks up, unable to blink, at the swarm of hideous man-beasts that scamper excitedly, a cannibal tribe around a sacrifice to their horrible heathen diety. He is rolled over onto his back, unable to move, and feels the water drip from the sky onto his nerve-endings. It is cool. He sees the tribe gather around him, but he doesn’t move. He is done. The tribe has one. He is the sacrifice. So be it.
JAMES(crying…or is it just the rain?): Amon. I’m sorry. I…you shouldn’t have said those things. Shouldn’t have denied them. I can’t stop them.
Amon gurgles, eyes staring up uncomprehendingly. So blessed is he, to not feel what is coming next. He sees a creature, again so strangely weightless, crawl up his torso. It straddles him, its’ hands digging into his chest. How strange it looks…it has his face.
AMON: A dream?
The creatures have stopped their dancing and celebration now. They crawl forward like savages, their claws scratching the ground, squelching in his innards. They breathe heavily. They lick their lips, their tounges long and black and wet. They grunt and moan, estatic.
And then they are on him.
Teeth and claws rend into his body, tearing at his flesh. He does not scream, just looks into his own face above him, mirroring him. He wonders what it means, this dream?
JAMES: Oh, god…just finish him. The creature wearing Amons’ face turns and looks back at James. It raises one long bony finger to Amons’ lips.
The sounds of slaughter rise up through the rain, with the whirlwinds of floating refuse, clambering for freedom in the cloudy sky. James turns and vomits beside the alley.
Then. It is over. The sounds have stopped. James turns and sees them, standing and crouching there, their white skin stained red with blood, dripping from them as if freshly from a shower. The one with Amons’ face stands in front, it’s torso heaving with exhaustion and excitement.
No words are said. James and the Creatures stare at each other for a long while. And then they advance. James would run, but he is frozen to the spot. He is next, he thinks, they are going to turn on their creator now. They will eat him and take his face. He wants to run, but cannot. He then falls.
And then, dark.
A knocking on a door, echoing in the hollow world outside of James’ unconscious mind. Blackness fills the panel.
NARRATION: Have I been sleeping? Has it been a dream?
The knocking persists, thudding through his head. A sliver of light as his eyes open.
NARRATION: Someone at my door?
James rises from bed, unsturdily, like a drunk waking up too soon after a bender. He stumbles to the door, slowly and painfully, clutching his pale forehead.
JAMES: Yeah…hang on.
He opens the door to see Marigold standing in the hallway. She looks well, her smile is warm and radiant, almost a mockery of James despair. Her smile fades when she sees him.
MARIGOLD: James? God, you look awful!
James regards her coolly for a moment, and then stands aside. He invites her in with a sweep of his right arm. She looks at him a moment longer, and then enters.
JAMES: I’ve been…well, I haven’t been sleeping well.
NARRATION: I’m sick. I don’t know what’s real anymore.
MARIGOLD: Well, you look sick. She finds a seat, reluctantly, still peering at him curiously and with concern.
James closes the door, and walks to his desk. He looks down and stops, seeing the pictures he has drawn. A man that looks like Amon is being slaughtered by James’ monstrous creations. James stares at it, unblinking. But he is not shocked. His reaction is calm, disassociative. Marigold peers over his shoulder.
MARIGOLD: Shit…that’s amazing work, James. It’s…well, it’s scary.
NARRATION: It was scarier in person.
JAMES: Yeah…I…well, it took a while. I’ve been working a lot lately.
MARIGOLD: That why you haven’t called me?
JAMES: Yeah. I’ve just been…busy.
NARRATION: Busy watching my monsters eat my best friend. It’s been a gas.
She looks up at him again, her concern is now nearly overbearing now. James looks uncomfortable under her gaze, he begins to move, almost like a wiggle. A shrug. He sits down roughly into his chair and looks up at her. He attempts to compose himself, trying to will himself to look good, to look healthy.
JAMES: I’m sorry. I told you I’m not very good at this.
She seems to relax. Her maternal instincts take over, and she places a hand to his forehead. He closes his eyes to her touch, feeling comforted.
MARIGOLD: James…are you okay? I mean, really?
JAMES: Fine. Just kind of tired.
Marigold nods, looking a little irritated as well as a little understanding.
MARIGOLD: Alright, I get it. I’ll go.
James grabs her wrist as she goes to leave. She stops.
JAMES: No, wait. Please. I… He looks down at the ground, trying to find words. …I don’t want you to go. Please…stay with me? He looks up, unsure. Marigold smiles gently.
MARIGOLD: Okay…I’ll hang around. You wanna watch a movie or…?
JAMES: No…uh… He looks doubtful. I mean, that is…sleep?
She looks at him for a long time, studying him. She then nods, not entirely resolved. But not entirely hesitant, either.
JAMES: I mean…just sleep. I…you know… He shivers involuntarily, gritting his teeth.
MARIGOLD: It’s okay, James… She kneels beside him, putting her hands on his stooped shoulders. She rubs him, comforting him. Her look is one of concern and love, but also of doubt. It’s clear that she’s confused about her feelings…why this feeling of affection? She doesn’t know him… It’s okay. I get it. You look so tired… She brushes back his hair over his sweaty forehead. Let’s get you to bed.
She helps him up, and he stumbles suddenly, as if the will drained out of him all at once. She catches him, deceptively strong. She leads him to the bed, helps him into it, humming to him like a Mother hums to a scared child after a nightmare. He lays down, sighing like a dying man. He opens his eyes and looks up at her, half adoringly, half frightened. She looks down at him, her humming dying off abruptly. They stare into each others eyes like star-crossed lovers, and in that moment they are together. She doesn’t smile.
Suddenly, she is removing her shirt, pulling it over her head. It drops to the ground, discarded. Her breasts hang free, suspended in the air. All is still then for a moment, an unasked question between two people. The answer also remains unspoken. She removes her shoes next, tossing them into a corner. She slips her socks off, and then with little fanfare, her jeans pool about her bare feet like water at the end of a stream.
She climbs into bed next to him, silently. Neither speaks, the feeling in the air speaks for them. Both feel hot, and tingly. They look at each other still, never taking their eyes away, unable to even if they wished it. They lay their heads down in unison on the pillows. There are no smiles, no kind words or flatteries. Just an understood connection. This has to happen.
Silent as a funeral still, they kiss. Her lips taste sweet, his sour. It’s innocent first, a peck, like friends. Their eyes, briefly closed in the act, flutter open and lock again. They descend together once again, this time lingering, tasting. As it about to burst, needing one another to contain it, they push against each other, their bodies locking like handcuffs. The lovers roll then, and she is on him, and he is in her.
They roll and crash like waves, but still they do not smile. They do not moan, or gasp. This is not passion. This is fate. Unable to help themselves, they work with each other, moved by greater forces than themselves.
NARRATION: I wonder…did I write this, too?
It is still night. James’ eyes flicker open. He turns his head and sees Marigold is still there, sleeping. The room seems blue, as if light is being filtered through colored glass. It looks cold. Marigold sleeps peacefully, her lips smiling slightly, contentedly. James sits up and looks around. There are shadows in the corners. Deep shadows.
As if summoned, a pair of the creatures creep out slowly from their shadowy nests, presenting themselves to their summoner. First bone white claws are visible, seemingly unaffected by the eerie blue light. Then feet, and finally they are whole, here in this world. Their pupil-free eyes stare lidless and blind at him. James regards them casually.
JAMES: I didn’t call you. She is not for you.
CREATURE: You not call. But we come. For her.
JAMES: Didn’t you hear me? She’s mine. I made you, and you will listen.
CREATURE: We hear, but we do not listen.
James gets out of bed, and walks towards them. Marigold sleeps peacefully still. James glances at her, and then back at the monstrous beasts that stand in front of him. He boldly steps closer, closer than he has ever been to them voluntarily. He glares at them.
JAMES: No. No, you WILL listen to your creator. I’m not putting up with this shit any longer.
The Creatures titter softly, as if sharing in a private joke.
JAMES: What are you laughing at?
The Creatures step aside, one to the left and the other the right. With absurd theatrics, a new and considerably larger clawed foot thumps out of the shadowy portal. Red light begins to float incandescently into the room, just a small slither. Then, standing at least a head and shoulders taller than James, their leader has arrived.
It’s shoulders are massive, it’s body is not atrophied as much as it’s smaller cousins. It is healthier, dangerous. It’s eyes are massive, bugged out and bloated. It’s skin is a sickly pink, more human-like. It’s hair is fuller, but still stringy. Uneven strands of it hang limply down it’s strong back. It rears it’s massive head, it’s jaws sticking out predatorily, and stares into the eyes of the artist.
James does not budge from his spot, but his breathing quickens. His eyes, shadowed beneath his brow, stare into the eyes of his most dangerous creation.
JAMES: I don’t remember you. I’ve never drawn you.
This Masterwork Horror does not offer a reply at first, just stares down at James with untold malice and ferocity. It’s jaws open and shut, red-colored spittle dripping from the large sharp canines. James is undettered, but his jaw begins to clench and unclench.
JAMES: Do you speak, or do they speak for you? C’mon, I want some answers! What is going on? Did I make you, or did you come from somewhere else? Why are you in my head?
Again, there is no answer, just a menacing figure in the dark, dangerously close.
JAMES(softly): Or am I crazy?
Now the beasts begins to move. It takes a half step backward, and tilts it’s head. It is not a questioning motion, there is nothing confused about this thing. It is a gesture of amusement. It’s jaw seems to widen, like a grin.
BEAST: You…set us free.
THE CREATURES: Set us free.
BEAST: We are not yours. You think us, but we are us.
JAMES: What does that mean?
BEAST: You dream, we come. You wish, we come. You love, we come. But we are not yours.
JAMES: Not mine? Then why do you come to me?
BEAST: Once, we yours. Now, we ours. Set us free.
MARIGOLD(From behind): James? Oh my god!
James whirls around, and now Marigold sits upright, her eyes widened in terror at the horrors sitting with him.
BEAST: We have served. You bring us. You bring her. We let you have her. Now, set us free.
MARIGOLD: James? What is going on?
Marigold gets out of bed, moving backwards, trying to make it as far from the things before her as possible. Claws then grab her out of the shadows behind her. She shrieks. Multiple hands grip her, and monsters materialize, seemingly from nowhere, someplace beyond. There are at least four. They hoist her into the air, her small legs kicking uselessly against nothing. They begin to carry her forward, towards the two powerful ones; Their creator, and their Master.
JAMES: Leave her alone!
James flings his head between her and the beast, and then stands firm, clenching his fists.
JAMES: Tell me! You said once you were mine…you said you let her have me…what does that mean?
BEAST: You made us, and we obeyed. You made her, and we let you have her. We kill her once. In the white worlds. The beast gestures it’s horrid hand towards the desk. James rushes over to the desk, furiously whipping at the pages, flinging them away as he searches them. Then, he is still.
JAMES: Oh my God…
NARRATION: This isn’t…it’s not possible.
In his hands is an issue of THE TERROR. It shows a large “#1” on the cover in it’s upper left hand. It’s old, dented and marked. On the cover, is Marigold. Her hair is longer, her skin whiter, almost porcelin. The Giant Beast standing behind James is there on the cover, it’s claws reaching around her head. Her eyes are wide with terror; her mouth is wider. He shakes his head.
JAMES: God damn you!
He whirls around, facing the world. He doesn’t know what is real any longer. Was any of it? The cover is being repeated, now with flesh instead of pencils and colors. Her eyes are wide, the claws are around her head.
MARIGOLD: James…James…what is happening?
There are tears on her cheeks, terror in her eyes. Her red lips hang apart.
MARIGOLD: James…what…I don’t understand.
JAMES: Let her go. Please.
The Beast shakes it’s monstrous head.
JAMES: Please…I…how much of it did I make? Am I even real?
BEAST: You are. Your mind is realer. You made us real. Like her.
JAMES: Marigold…Esther…do you know? Have you known?
Marigold is silent, tears streaming down her cheeks. She shakes her head.
MARIGOLD: Dreams. Just…dreams. And feelings…James…what… She begins to sob, her head and shoulders sagging.
JAMES: Fuck. I….
NARRATION: I made you to love me. I made them to kill for me.
BEAST: She will die.
BEAST: Then. Set. Us. Free!
James looks down, shaking his head. He turns back to his desk and looks at the papers. At the books. His pencils, everything he works with. Everything he made, all the work he’s done. The worlds’ he created, the creatures he dreamed up. Even the woman he always wanted…all there on paper, drawn out with lead. He reaches down, picking up papers. He nods.
JAMES: Fine. Fine, I set you free, you bastards.
He tears the papers, then. The comics are shredded in his hands, bringing wreckage to his created world. He releases them from the paper, liberating them with the same hands he made them with. Flecks of white float to the floor.
Marigold weeps, falling to the floor.
The Creatures howl, their horrid faces raised to the air in triumph. They retreat into their shadows hurriedly, and then, they are gone. James stands amidst the wreckage of his mind, looking down at Marigold, lying on the floor, her weeping now the only sound.
James kneels beside her, gathers her into his arms. She presses against him, her eyes staring sightlessly over his shoulder. He grips her, burying his face in her neck.
JAMES: I’m sorry.
It begins softly, a single cry in the night, barely audible amongst the many noises of the city.
Then, louder. Then more.
Soon, a symphony rises from the city streets, screams and cries mixed with howls, with screeches.
James and Marigold stand together on a rooftop, hand in hand. They look down at the streets, small specks of white run rampant, leaping down upon smaller black dots.
There are red spots visible on the pavement below.
NARRATION: I guess the Grandmother was right.
On the street, a beast leaps upon the back of a woman, it’s jaws opened grotesquely wide.
NARRATION: They all were right. Turns out my work was dangerous after all.
A pair of creatures corner a Mother and child in an alley.
NARRATION: I’m not sure of the specifics. I wonder again. About God. Was God just someone who believed in the idea of people enough to make them real? Was Earth just some piece of fiction?
Creatures fight each other other a severed leg on top of a discarded car.
NARRATION: I don’t know. Marigold is here with me, and we’re going to be safe. They’re leaving us alone. I don’t know if humans will survive beyond that.
A swarm of creatures chase a crowd of pedestrians.
NARRATION: I won’t ever really understand. I don’t know how they got out of control. I don’t know if they were fiction turned reality, or reality I turned into fiction. I don’t know if I made Marigold, or if she was somewhere else first. I really don’t know.
High above, there are hundreds of them. Perhaps more. They run rampant through the city, screaming and laughing. They are free.
NARRATION: I do know that I freed them. They are out. They are going to kill everyone.
Close up on James. He is clean, and handsomer. He looks healthy.
NARRATION: And, honestly. I feel good. Better than I have in a long time.
Close up on James’ eyes.
NARRATION: I wonder if this is what God feels like?