The Vessel

January 8, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The estimated reading time for this post is 7 minutes, 17 seconds

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The realtor still wouldn’t look me in the face as he held the keys out to me. I couldn’t blame him. Most people were put off by the lines etched across my face. Suppose most think I’m some kind of zealot or some such. I didn’t give a shit what most people thought. The tattoos would serve their purpose. I shifted the duffel bag higher onto my shoulder and accepted the keys.

“So, Mr. Stokes,” began the realtor, “Everything is in order. The place is all yours now. Real steal at the price you got it. You know, I was going through the paperwork, and realized a family named Stokes used to own the place almost twenty years ago now.”

“I know,” I replied, “Relatives.”

I also knew why I got such a great deal. I’m sure he did too, but damned if he was going to mention it. Couldn’t risk blowing the sale. There were no worries there. I was going to be the last person this place ever owned. My hand tightened around the keys. I could feel the house, like cold fingers wrapping around my spine. I knew they were watching. That was okay. That was all they could do since it was early morning. I know they only come out at night.

“Well, I guess I’ll get out of your hair, let you get settled in,” said the realtor.

“Thank you, Mr. Boone,” I replied.

“Guess the movers will be here soon,” he said, “Out with the old, in with the new, eh?”

“I suppose,” I said. I wasn’t moving anything in. Or out, for that matter. The previous tenants left everything behind. Of course, where they moved to, you can’t really carry it with you.

Boone shook my hand, his eyes drawn to the Latin script scrawled across the back and knuckles. I knew he wanted to ask what it meant. He didn’t. He just smiled a half-hearted smile, thought of me as just another freak whose money spent as well as anyones did and turned to walk out the door.

“Goodbye, Mr. Stokes,” he said, “Hope you enjoy the place.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Boone,” I replied. I’m sure I won’t, I added silently.

The door clicked shut behind him. I twisted the deadbolt home and pulled against the door to be certain. I slung the bag down from my shoulder, unzipped it, reached inside and pulled out the nail gun. I started at the bottom and drove long nail after nail through the door and into the frame.

I stood in the living room, nail gun in hand, ready to start on the windows. I froze as my eyes found the staircase. My mind flashed back all those years ago, back to Marie. I could still see the blood and the strange angles her broken body made as it tumbled from the second floor down. I could still see her eyes staring open, her last act mouthing the word “Run.” It was the last thing my sister ever said.

I shook myself out of the past and walked to the windows. I had much to do before sundown. I felt eyes on my back as I moved. The fireplace mantel was dotted with small, porcelain people. Little milk-white, angelic boys and girls whose heads shouldn’t be able to move but turned to watch me nonetheless. I smiled and raised my middle finger.

I made my way through the house, upstairs and down, securing windows and doors, any way in or out. Memories haunted me again in the master bedroom. The bed rested in the same spot as my parents bed had. I could see it in my mind’s eye, the bed soaked with blood, my mother lying in its center with her chest flayed open. Her heart resting on the floor at the foot of the bed, a horrible rat-like thing picking at it like it was the last scrap of chicken on a bone. The rat thing looked at me, a snarl curling its lips. No, not a snarl. A smile.

“Want some?” it asked.

I remember running for the stairs as my sister screamed. I looked over my shoulder as I reached the bottom step. Marie had followed moments behind me. As she set foot on the top step the thing that would end her life seemed to peel itself from the wall behind her. It was tall and thin, like a skeleton covered in nothing but sagging, clammy skin. The thing had no face, just droopy, wet folds of flesh. Marie screamed again as it wrapped its arms around her, its long, thin fingers cutting into the flesh of her arms. It squeezed and I heard my sisters bones snap. Blood bubbled from her mouth as it let go and her shattered body fell. I did as she asked me and ran for the front door.

My feet slid from under me as I skidded to a halt, my heart hammering in my throat. A woman stood blocking the front door. She was nude and beautiful, one hand caressing a full, firm breast. Recognition blasted through my pubescent mind. I knew this woman, this image. It was seared into my thirteen year old brain from a late night cable channel movie my parents would have flipped out about if they’d known I’d watched. My confusion turned to a scream as the skin of the beautiful face split down the middle in a gory, red line. The bone of the skull cracked in a zig-zag line and opened, the jagged shards like teeth in a gaping mouth. I scrambled to my feet and ran.

My father died in the kitchen. He was blamed for it all. A murder/suicide. My father did not kill himself. I saw it all as I stumbled my way into the kitchen. My father was propped in a kitchen chair, his face a red, battered mess. A man stood before my father, his back to me, a shotgun in his hand. The man turned and smiled, showing a haphazard row of crooked teeth. My fathers eyes looked out from the gaping, gore rimmed holes in the man’s face. The man reached towards my father’s slack, broken jaw. He fished out a cracked tooth, opened wide and jammed it into his wet, rotted gum. Then he put the shotgun to my fathers head and pulled the trigger.

I don’t remember getting to my feet, or making it to the kitchen door, or running the two miles to the nearest neighbor. I don’t remember what I told them, or what I told the cops after they were called. I don’t remember crying in wracking sobs or pissing myself, but they said I did both. I don’t know why I don’t remember. Maybe shock had finally set in.

I learned later that we weren’t the first, or the last. Almost everyone who ever lived in that house died violently. There were a few exceptions, like myself. I researched back as far as I could, but I never found the root, the cause of all the death. I don’t know. Maybe some places are just evil.

After what seemed like hours I tossed the nail gun back into the duffel and sat down beside it. I was trapped. Just the way I wanted it. I pulled a bottle of water from the bag and downed half of it in a gulp. I replaced it and took out a container of salt.

I pour the salt in a six foot circle, taking care to make sure the line is steady and unbroken. I remove all my clothes and sit cross-legged in the center with my eyes closed. I need to be calm, centered. I rest and wait for night.

I lose myself to sleep, for how long, I don’t know. The noise wakes me. They are all there, all the demons from my nightmares, just outside the salt. The man from the kitchen is blind once more, my father’s lifeless eyes long since rotted away. He still smiles my father’s smile, though. The woman of my wet dreams licks her lips seductively, her fingers pinching rosy nipples. Loose skin flops wetly as the thing that killed Marie claws at air, unable to cross the salt line. The rat thing twitters and clutches the nude woman’s leg, a long pointed tongue flicking at her thigh.

And there are others that I have never seen. Shadows with red eyes that breathe and writhe, hairless apish things with pus filled sores, a ghostly pale woman with dark red neck and wrist slashes. Whispering things that seem to be all teeth.

They hiss and spit at the salt and at the symbols inked beneath my skin. I researched much more than the history of this place over the years. I stand and breathe deep, the cold prickling my bare skin. I wonder if they know what the symbols, the writing, really means. Time to find out. I reach my foot out and break the salt line.

The demons rush me, crashing into me like a high tide, and I smile. They didn’t understand. I feel their joy, then their confusion as they touch me. The prayers and incantations inked into my flesh do their work. I feel them warp and stretch as their bodies and mine become one. I scream as the legion invades me, trapped beneath my skin. My dream woman was last, her nails raking furrows in the wood floor as the spell sucked her in.

I fall to my knees, struggling for control. I feel them all inside me, screaming to get out, battering themselves against the wards branded into my skin. I crawl to my bag and reach for the small, red gas can within. I will die tonight, and with me this house and its demons. I empty the can over my head, the acrid fumes of the gasoline forcing themselves into my lungs.

I pull my lighter from the bag.

I burn.

I wake.

The fluorescent lights sear my eyes and pain comes in a rush. I try to move but bandages swathe my body. The pain worsens. A grey haired, white coated man looks down at me.

“Can you hear me, Mr. Stokes?” he asks, “My name is Dr. Montgomery.” He shines a pen light into my eyes. “You were in a fire Mr. Stokes. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have third degree burns over ninety-five percent of your body. You’ve got a long road a head of you, Mr. Stokes.”

A deep, strong voice says, “Oh, I’ll be alright.”

My heart freezes. The words come from my mouth, but it is not my voice.

Credit: R. D. Smithey

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