Dream: Meat Hooks and the Damned
I open my eyes to fog. It drifts lazily around me, and I recognize this place. I look at myself and am not the least bit surprised when I see my plain shirt and pants, faded gray and streaked with blood. I curl my bare toes into the ashes and powdered bones beneath me. I reach up and trace the ragged edges of the fresh inverted cross carved into my forehead. The wound screams, but the pain makes me focus. I’m standing alone, but I sense other people near, the way a deer senses the hunter as it takes its final sip of water. I spin in a slow circle, and the fog spins with me.
I hear sounds, muffled sounds. I hear clapping that sounds like it is coming from every direction all at once. The fog distorts the sound, but I’ve been here. I hear laughter, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I focus and stare deep into the fog until I see a dark blur. I walk toward the blur, and it takes a more definite form with each step. The edges solidify into a black rectangle. The black becomes brown. The shape widens into a shack. The brown becomes weathered wood the color of old bone. The door to the shack slams as if blown by an unseen wind. I stand before the door, and I hear the laughter and the clapping emanating from within. The building is squat, barely taller than the door, and it only looks to be a few square feet big. Still, it weeps malevolence. The ever-swirling fog dances around it, moved by the force of the noise within.
Instinct forces my hand, and I push open the creaky door. Without taking a step, I’m standing inside the building It is massive on the inside, like a creepy wooden version of Dr. Who’s TARDIS, lit by torches fixed to the walls. It towers over me, bleached wooden planks reaching twenty feet to a simple wooden ceiling where long, braided strands of hair hang down. Hollowed-out bones are braided into the hair, and they clank together, swaying in an unseen breeze. A small wooden ledge lines the wall behind me, and people sit shoulder to shoulder on it, staring past me. I feel like I should recognize the people sitting here, but my mind is blank. I walk slowly in front of them, looking into their milky dead eyes, but none acknowledges me. Each sits up stiff and straight, hands folded. Some hands are missing fingers, some faces missing strips of flesh. Some stare ahead with one eye, a gaping oozing crater where the other eye should be. Others are missing ears or wearing slit-throat necklaces. As I stare at them, they raise their hands in clumsy unison and clap in an off-kilter rhythm. Laughter erupts behind me like grenades in a barrel, and I turn around as the sitting people make screaming faces and howl with joyous laughter.
More people hang, suspended by a complex network of barbed wire and meat hooks, above a large hole in the simple wooden floor. Tears of blood stream down their faces as the wires pull taut and the hooks yank them up, down, in every direction, so that their limbs flail frantically. They cringe in agony, but they all laugh out loud as they jerk and twitch to the tug of the wires. I step forward to the man swinging nearest me and notice his eyes are alive with confusion and pain, though he screams hearty laughter in my face with enough force to speckle my skin with his warm blood. I look him over from head to toe. He has deep cuts in the flesh of his cheeks, deep enough that when he chuckles, I can see flashes of bone under the pulpy ribbons of his face. A hook pokes through his right shoulder, and another through his left thigh. An even thicker one splits his sternum open, and shards of bone stab out alongside the purple metal of the hook.
I wager a glance below his kicking feet and into the hole in the floor. Huge, savage gears made of flesh, purple metal, and pink crustaceous shell grind against each other as blood rains down on them from the twitching people above. The gears rumble, and the people dance and laugh. The people seated along the wall clap and laugh along. I stare back and forth a few times before I notice the figure standing at the far wall, his face cloaked in torchlight shadow. Everyone laughs and claps at the gory spectacle while the man at the end of the aisle works his arms, tugging at the wires that control the ghastly puppet show.
I take a step toward the puppet master, and his arms go limp at his side. In the same instant, the wires go slack, and the puppet people slide off their hooks and into the mutant gears below them. The seated people stand in the same almost-unison as their clapping, which intensifies as the bodies rend and burst in the flesh-metal-shell gears. The standing people all stare straight ahead of them, their yellow and white eyes blind to the sight of bodies grinding to pulpy smears in front of them.
I take another step, and the puppet master breathes smoke that billows out of the shadows cloaking his face and through the space between the planks in the walls. The standing people walk forward until they are at the edge of the floor, dangerously close to the churning gears. One by one, they turn around so their heels hang just over the end of the ancient wood. The figure raises his arms, and the strands of barbed wire growing from his skin shimmer in torchlight as the hooks swing down and impale the people. The people scream once as their eyes uncloud, but when the wires snap backwards, violently tugging their bodies, their screams turn to laughter. They swing back together to dangle above the gears. The puppet master exhales more smoke.
I contemplate the empty seats just as a hand, bloody and deformed, reaches out of the gears near the door. An arm follows it, and a man pulls his crushed, pulpy body from the horrible gears. Behind him, a woman follows suit, pulling her shattered body from the gears. The man stands on impossibly crushed legs and stares through me with milky dead eyes. As the woman behind him stands, the dead man takes a step closer to me. Another corpse pulls itself from the gears, forcing the dead man and woman another step closer. The puppets flail and laugh as the wires jerk up and down and back and forth in a metallic flurry. I am staring at them when the first dead man to crawl from the mutant gears slams into me as he takes a step forward to allow room for the ever-growing number of people resurrecting themselves from the flesh-metal-shell. I stumble back and notice that the dead man’s face has healed—not completely, but his wounds have shrunk and closed slightly. His legs still boast compound fractures, but they are no longer crumpled to the point of being unrecognizable as limbs. He steps into me again, and I back up a few steps.
I turn around and find myself staring at the shadow that cloaks the puppet master’s face. His arms work back and forth, flexing and relaxing, up and down, while dozens of strands of barbed wire reach up behind the human puppets. His body is slender but muscular, and crisscrossed with purple welts and bright crimson scars. From the mask of shadows, he blows smoke into my face. My eyes water, and red and blue spots dance behind my eyelids when I blink the burn away. When I open my eyes, I see the smoke he exhaled drift through the cracks in the wall like dust in sunshine. The dead man bumps me again, and I step toward the puppets to give him room to get past. Instead of pushing farther, he and the rest of the people who’d climbed out of the gears all sit down on the wooden ledge. They stare straight ahead with their dead eyes. The puppet master works his arms and wires back and forth, up and down, forcing the human puppets to yank and jerk against the purple hooks.
The human puppets flail and laugh, and the seated people applaud politely. The longer they clap, the brighter the torches above glow. The brighter they glow, the more the shadow concealing the puppet master’s face fades. He works his arms more and more furiously until the puppets are spinning in circles, flinging fans of blood at the blind audience. I stand in front of his madly waving arms, avoiding the slicing wires as they cut the stale, blood-tinged air. He moves so fast I see tracers from the whipping wires. The dead clap, and the human puppets laugh. The torches burn daylight-bright, and the shadow hiding the puppet master fully dissipates.
I’m staring at myself. I see the thick strands of wire growing from my arms. I see where the muscles turn to wire under the stretched skin of my forearms. I can see the three tentacles connecting from the puppet master’s head to the walls of the shack behind him. They are a mix of flesh and shell, like the gears below, but I see no metal as they pulse and tug at the base of the puppet master’s neck. The tentacles sway, and the puppet master’s arms mimic the motion, forcing the human puppets to scream with laughter as the hooks pull them in different directions. My eyes are open wide when the puppet master me exhales dark orange smoke into my face.
I blink the burn away again.
I open my eyes and see the cords of wire stretching from under the skin in my arms. I feel each wire where it melds to my muscles and bones. I feel the weight of the tentacles extending from the base of my skull. I feel each throb and swing. I see time and space and beyond. I want to destroy it all. I hear drums in my head, and my arms wave to the off-kilter beat. The wires tug and tighten, forcing the human puppets to dance and sway. I look to the puppets, and each one is me. I feel the smile as I force myself to twist and jerk at the demand of purple steel. The seated people clap, and my eyes dart back and forth. Everyone sitting is me as well. Each me stares with dead white eyes at another me, twisting and twirling to the insane demands of monster me.
I see myself from everywhere. Hooked and dancing. Blind and clapping. Swinging my wires and arms.
I blow smoke and watch it drift between the planks and fade away.
My throat aches from laughing. My eyes hurt from massive, diamond-hard cataracts. My arms burn from commanding the macabre puppet show and from the wires attached to them. Each sitting me stands and claps. Again, I see time and space and beyond. I let my arms fall limp at my sides. The wires whip, and everything bleeds. I slide off my hooks and fall into gears made of flesh, metal, and shell.
COMING IN 2011 from Library of Horror Press....HEINOUS!