The CountA Chapter by B. Benson McMullen
The bat came down hard, crushing the man's fingers on his right hand.
One, two, three. Let the pain sink in. Let your muscles relax. Wait for him to see the next one coming before you even swing.
Again, further up the arm, just below the elbow. The man screamed in pain and recoiled as best he could, putting his back against the wall and shielding his shattered arm with his body. His face was repulsive; A couple of his bottom teeth were missing, sunken eyes filled with shock and pain, lines in his skin from years of grinning like an idiot.
One, two, three. Let him know he's dead.
The third strike had a wind up I hadn't intended. It knocked across his left temple and sent him reeling to the side, falling onto his battered arm. He whimpered quietly in a loathsome heap. He might've been unconscious, or fighting its inevitability out of fear for what he knew I was about to do to him. I hit him some more. Four or five more strikes fell, mostly hitting his bony back and upper thighs. The bat was covered in blood, dented and chipped along its wide end.
I felt the adrenaline subside, leaving an empty sickness in the pit of my stomach. I almost collapsed as tears started streaming down his face.
One, two. Three.
I brought the bat down on the back of his head one more time with all of the force I had left. I heard as much as felt a crunch. Probably just his hooked nose smashing against the pavement, but I like to this day to imagine it was his skull caving in. I kept hold of the bat as I stepped backwards away from the man's broken body. It wasn't intentional, my mind screamed at me to drop it and run away. My heartbeat and fear had locked my hand into a gnarled vice grip around the thing's tape-wrapped handle.
I managed to turn and fled as fast as I could, bat still in hand. My legs were like jelly, my stomach turning in on itself. My head pounded, I could hear the blood rushing through my ears. I was alive. For some reason I found this both odd and comforting. The world was going mad, and me along with it.
This was my third in two weeks. Third corpse left crumpled in a bloody heap. Just alleyway detritus; bodies were this new world's tumbleweeds. Something was happening to the town of St. Christina, something was happening to me. Something was getting into my head. I could feel it happening when I slept. Thoughts would end before they began, having no clear content or context. Words without meaning would spring into being before what was left of rational thought could expel them, leaving only the vaguest memory. The world- and my memory of it- were constantly on the tip of my tongue.
Or maybe I was on the tip of the world's tongue, leaning over and staring at the endless black expanse below.
That was how it began, anyway. The creeping psychosis was bad, but it paled in comparison to what I feared would overtake me next. The alienation of reality from my ability to perceive it, culminating in what I'd begun to call “excommunication”.
Where are the police? Why won't they stop them? Why won't they stop me?
The excommunication was what the confusion did to some people. Made them crazier than crazy. Made them angry. Literal storms in figurative teacups rampaging across the monochrome world with buckets of red paint. They weren't even human anymore. It made me wonder if I still was. But I've gotten ahead of myself. That had been happening a lot. Time moved differently in those days. It's hard to explain if you weren't there. At that moment I realized for the first time that this killing hadn't had a beginning. I'd broken causality. It wound backwards and forwards simultaneously as the river of time became a whirlpool.
Had there been a reason to kill that man? Yes. Did I know now what it had been? No. That memory was something I'd have to find out in the future. Was he trying to kill me? Maybe, I'd just have to wait and see.
I found it hard to not take pleasure this death. I'd killed him before he could kill me. The pride triggered a revulsion in my sanity, it punished me for thinking like that. I fell over into the well trimmed hedges running along the sidewalk and retched into the grass. It took me a minute, but I got my feet back under me and brushed the green needles out of my hair.
My brain was alight, synapses firing and misfiring in a million directions at once. Was the whole world wrong or just me? Just St. Christina? Just the United States? The fire skimming along the top of my gray matter started to sputter and steam. I felt cold reason fight for dominance. Icy fingers ran from my sinuses to the base of my skull and slowed my heart.
You're sick. The voice said to me. It sounded like me. Talk to someone. Talk to anyone. Everything is fine. You're just sick. The cold fingers managed to stop me before I could get to the inevitable conclusion of that line. If that was true, if I was just sick, then I'd just killed three people in cold blood. That revelation will come later, my sanity decided. For now let's just get him somewhere safe. Somewhere quiet. One, two, three.
The sense in my mantra, the counting and the rational world it represented, helped galvanize me to action. The numbers were ordered, sequential, tangible; there was one of me. I had two hands. I'd taken three lives. The cancerous truth that was ruining the world was growing in me, even my math was getting morbid. I took three breaths. Each tasting ever so slightly sweeter, ever so slightly less bitter. I meandered away from the hedges into which I'd just spilled my last meal- I've eaten? When did I eat?- and forced my shaky legs to carry me across the road.
There was no one. In the distance- always in the distance- I could hear them. But there was no one in sight. I'd wander towards the sound of a car, the muffled shout of a person calling out someone's name, the padding of someone running somewhere. This town was home to around fifty-thousand people, I recalled suddenly. That number- unlike my ones, twos and threes- was a very discomforting number. Over fifty-thousand people and I couldn't remember having seen more than maybe half a dozen in the past two weeks. Three of them I'd ended up killing. The other three had run from me and disappeared before I could talk to them.
I couldn't remember when last I had slept, or even where I lived. Had I been out on the street, awake, for two weeks straight? I heard something crash inside what had appeared to be an abandoned store I was walking past. My head whipped around and my bat-arm went stiff. I approached the door to the building and turned the handle. The door slid open on squeaky hinges revealing the dark front room of a once friendly neighborhood grocery.
The source of the sound had apparently been a shelf that had been knocked over. Bags of chips and various snacks were spilled out all over the linoleum floor and the sight of the candy carnage made my stomach roar in protest. When had I last eaten? I couldn't be sure, but if my digestive tract's reaction to the sight of food or the consistency of my recent retching were any indication it couldn't have been very recently.
I knelt down, cautiously looking around before putting my bat down on the ground next to me. I popped open a bag of Doritos and greedily shoved a handful of the things into my mouth. Swallowing the mouthful of chips almost hurt, and the feeling of the food in my belly felt very wrong. Despite this, starvation wasn't an option. I did my counting thing; count to three, eat some more chips, repeat. It only took a few handfuls before my shriveled stomach declared itself as full as it felt like being.
I looked around and found a darkened refrigerator filled with bottled water and energy drinks. I grabbed a couple bottles and took a few careful sips from one of them after putting the other in the cargo pocket of my pants. I'd almost missed it, but in the vague reflections from the fridge's front window I saw him coming. My heart froze and I dove to my right, grabbing my bat as I rolled.
The man brought his tire iron down into the glass, missing me by an inch or so after I jumped. He shouted an incomprehensible syllable in anger and spun to come at me. I threw the bottle of water out of my hand as I rose up and shoved the front end of the bat into his ribs, pushing him back into the broken glass of the fridge. He screamed again as I backed away to give myself enough room for another swing. When he came at me this time, tire iron held high over his head in both hands, I gave him a broad swing into his right shoulder that knocked him off balance and hurled him to the ground. The tire iron clattered out of his hands.
I seized the moment and jumped over him, kicking the weapon further away and across the room. He got his feet under him slowly and winced, backing slowly away from me. I held the bat up, pointed at him. Our eyes locked for a moment before he felt he had enough distance between us to turn and flee, running through the open door and down the street. Out of sight, out of mind. Right.
After waiting a couple minutes, catching my breath and letting the adrenaline sickness wear off, I cautiously peered out the door. No one in sight. The night was silent except for the distant sound of shouting. Not screams nor terror, but an orator's shouts to reach the ears of a whole crowd and if there was such a thing, maybe even heaven. I couldn't hear what was being said, but decided it was better than waiting for Mr. Tire Iron to come back and catch me off guard with something bigger or more gun-shaped.
I stumbled down the street, my claw still clutched the bat like a lifeline. The air was dry, but an obscuring haze blanketed the street. It deepened shadows and made me feel all the more removed from whatever world from which those distant sounds emanated. I was stuck in my own little sphere of existence, only seeing other living things when our spheres overlapped in a gruesome Venn diagram.
The sounds of proselytizing were consistent. Unlike all the other sounds I heard outside my misty sphere of perception which grew fainter the closer to them I crept, the harsh sermon's noises behaved in the way that my rational mind told me they should. I kept to the sidewalk on the left side of the road, where the awnings of the darkened stores afforded me some shadows in which to hide.
Pale yellow lights danced around the upcoming street corner. At first I thought they might be the rotating warning lights on the tops of tow trucks, but the movement was too irregular. Fire?
There was a gathering of people, like a protest. A fat man dressed in bloodstained white robes was shouting, elevated above the rest on some kind of makeshift stage. Parts of it looked like cafeteria tables hammered to wrecked cars with long carpentry nails and rusted rail spikes and the whole thing was ringed with a throng of people sobbing and pulling at their own faces.
“The sins of the child are likened unto the sins of the father! The sins of the father!” the fat man atop the junk stage began chanting the phrase. The crowd followed in a quiet fervor that built to a crescendo. I felt my fear building with the volume of their mantra. The words felt greasy in my ears and turned my curious resolve into a wet panic. My feet refused to let me draw closer, I began shuffling away backwards.
A couple members of the small mob turned and saw me, their eyes filled with tears. Their faces were twisted, they were cawing like scavenger birds. My mind stopped just short of understanding as I realized each one was more grotesquely deformed than the last. Their eyes were black and empty, their features distorted as by a fun house mirror. Their limbs were gnarled and their skin splotchy and in some places scratched raw and bleeding.
The smell. Oh my god the smell.
This isn't right.
I smelled meat burning and heard screams of agony coming from just in front of the stage where the fires were the brightest. As the crowd of warped parishioners thronged and undulated like a colony of sea anemones, I saw a makeshift brazier with what looked almost like a grill clasped onto it. There were writhing black bodies atop it, naked and dying.
One, two, three... one, two, three... keep it together. Keep it.
My eyes shot between the nearest monstrous worshipers and their burnt offerings, then up to the priestly figure himself. He had no eyes. No features at all, besides an enormous mouth cutting into the bottom half of his inhuman head like a bloody gash.
The priest saw me. I'm not sure how, but he did. His wails halted for a moment and his freakish bald pate reared back. He laughed as his attentions on me drew the notice of his entire flock. He pointed at me.
“The sins of the father! Praise the god that made this! Kill the god that made us! This child knows, too! He knows the sins of the father!” The priest belched his words as though he were gurgling blood in his throat. My hand instinctively raised the bat, pointing it at the priest's slowly encroaching horde as I kept taking careful steps backwards.
One of the followers crowed loudly, shrieking in a frenzied wail as she lunged at me. The priest began to laugh again. It was a sound like an old car trying to start. There was something dead in his laughter.
I raised the bat over my head without hesitation, fear driving my tired muscles. Like a hammer on anvil I struck, bashing the woman's head and sending her flailing to the ground. A cry of horror flooded through the crowd; the priest kept laughing. The floodgates opened.
What were probably dozens- but what looked like hundreds- of furious parishioners came forward in a torrent of angry, wild limbs and gnashing teeth. I turned, knowing that it might have been a fatal decision even as I did it, and fled. Down the nearby sidewalk and across a couple of streets I flew without care for the “Look Both Ways” law of personal safety.
The screaming mass of rage barreled towards me. I kept running. They were fast, but I was faster. I had a body tempered by years of... something. Sports? Maybe martial arts. How old was I?
Where am I? Why am I here?
My body slowed momentarily as I realized my memories were missing. My head was a sieve, information leaking out. I could see it happening, felt my memories flecking off like chips of paint. A wind was gathering them up, a squall conjured by the fat priest who was still cackling somewhere behind me.
My eyes closed and I tried my best to fight against the priest. He was stealing my mind from me, my life. When my eyes opened again I had to skid to a stop to avoid running into him. It was a tall Asian man with a head full of wild yellow-blond hair. He stood solemnly, unflinching as he saw me slip and fall while trying to stop myself.
He was muscular enough for it to be apparent under his clothes, wearing a well pressed and immaculate pinstripe dress shirt under a black and white striped waistcoat.
“Stay down a moment.” He said, a thin English accent made his words sound deadly. I scrambled on scraped palms behind him, noticing only now that he had an old felling axe with a rough blackened head in his left hand. Its long wooden handle was wrapped up with white athletic tape. The first of the crowd pursuing me, a lithe man who looked like he may have been some kind of cross-country runner in high school, reached the Asian. In a movement I could barely see, the Asian spun around and drove his axe underhanded into the man's sternum. The man's look of insane rage fractured into a face of surprised pain as he yelped.
The Asian hooked the axe out of the man's chest and flipped it into both hands, bringing it down again into the man's shoulder. He dropped and twitched. My eyes were wide with fear; tears began to stream from their ducts. The rest of the crowd halted, slowing to a stop no more than ten feet from my protector. They were hunched and utterly silent, spreading out in a semicircle to half-surround us. Their hands clenched and unclenched and their black eyes shone with malice. The priest strode through their midst, the crowd parting to make way for him to reach the front.
“Go home, priest.” The Asian's calm voice cut through the priest's oppressive aura of power. The crowd seemed to quiet itself when he spoke. “You can't have this one.”
“You have no right! He has no right to stand in the way of our justice!” The priest barked at the Asian and his own followers in equal measure. He pointed one fat finger at me, huddled on the small stoop in front of a downtown shop. I became distantly aware that the priest and all his followers had at some point begun to look like relatively normal people. He had eyes and a nose and wrinkles on his old pale skin. The madly wailing crowd all had the features of normal men and women, not the monstrous faces I'd seen before. “I'll have him, you wretched creature.”
“How many of your flock is he worth?” the Asian asked. He let his axe fall, its head balancing it upside-down. He leaned on it like a walking stick. The priest raised and eyebrow and was silent a moment, as if sizing up the situation.
“He'll be with us sooner or later anyway.” the priest said after a pause, and turned to leave. His sheep lingered a glance at us before turning to follow their shepherd. Once they returned to their stage, still visible in the distance, the man turned to look at me. He put the axe over one shoulder deadly side reversed and took a seat next to me on the steps.
My heart quivered and pounded arrhythmically. I felt for half a second like I was about to lose consciousness. My eyes unfocused and I felt like I was falling. Suddenly I became aware that my eyes were closed. I opened them and my heartbeat returned to normal.
The world around me had changed. The solemn grays and thick shadows were replaced with the deep orangey purples of a reality bathed in sunset rays. The strange dry mist had vanished all around me with no evidence of its ever having been there. My hands were blistered, my muscles ached. My eyes felt red and puffy as if from crying.
I couldn't smell the smoke of burning bodies or hear distant cries of deathly lamentation. The ground was soaked from rain and I saw black clouds retreating in the distance. I, however, was completely dry with the exception of my back and rear, which were both against the wet concrete. I sat up; my head throbbed and begged me to lay back down.
I slowly stood and looked out over the dusky city. It was empty. Noiseless. Utterly silent except for my breaths. I grabbed my bat and wandered down the street. After several minutes of wandering I realized I couldn't remember what my voice sounded like. I got brave.
“Hello?” I called out. My voice echoed down the empty main drag of a town I was pretty sure was called St. Christina. I think it had fifty-thousand people in it. Or at least was supposed to. Not one of them replied.
© 2012 B. Benson McMullen
B. Benson McMullen
AboutI'm a man with a grudge against boredom and a deep love for the (eternally) impending Apocalypse. Here's a list of some of the interesting folks you'll find in my scribblin's: psychic Nazis, gun wizar.. more..