Washing Blood with Blood

Jackson knew that Sam wasn’t going to last much longer. Sam had a few days at best. He

had tasked himself to keep an eye on his old friend. The others wanted to kill Sam outright.

Jackson wouldn’t allow it despite knowing things were not going to get better.860b30191e60ad6dbe81edf225758d03

They were a small group scavenging in the mountains. Jackson had started off alone;

running for the hills after the ancient and horrible Elder Gods came. A larger group had

splintered into small factions after learning the hard way that populations often carried cosmic

‘kick me’ signs on their backs. One of these smaller groups wandered near and Jackson had

become the defacto leader, but only because he let them stay on the bit of land he had staked as

his own.

The sky was turning to night, but it was merely academic. It was a living entity, that sky.

It roiled and surged with black clouds and a thick mist. Long tendrils would sometimes reach

down, other times the sky itself would. There was always a glow, day or night, leaving the world

in permanent twilight. When the sky dimmed slightly, indicating the night, they all huddled

inside. Things happened at night.

Night was what happened to Sam. It was a rare occurrence that the dim light in the sky

went out and true darkness fell. The living clouds would part and snatches of sparkling sky

would appear. Sam went out to look at the starry spectacle, hoping it was a sign the terrible gods

had lost interest in them and left. Instead the opposite happened. Sam looked at that vast

emptiness of space and Their madness and evil took interest in him.

“Space made him crazy,” Julian said in a small voice during the first onset of Sam’s

insanity. Jackson had to agree with the child. Their sphere was so enveloped in manifest evil

that merely looking into it sent a person over the brink. Julian was a sad but observant boy. He

and his sister Sophia had lost their mother to sacrifice. The previous group they had been with

did as all large groups did; in a swift movement they went from running from the evil to running

towards it. They offered the pretty young mother to an Elder God as sacrifice. The children ran

away before attention could be turned their way.

Sam wouldn’t sit still inside the cramped cabin so Jackson had to take him out. In the

glow of night, Sam wandered the trail that led past their small and hidden compound. It

consisted of two well-built cabins and two shoddy huts near a stream. The trail led up to a sharp

ledge that had a view of the entire valley.

“They came.” Sam said. Jackson refused to look directly at him. An indecipherable grin

was now a permanent fixture on the man’s face. His beard grew in strange wiry patches and his

skin had taken on a sheen. It was the eyes that disturbed his the most. The pupils were distorting

while the irises grew pale. He wore a scarf around his neck; it hid the strange moving

protrusions.

“I know,” Jackson responded automatically. “They came and now here we are; hiding

without hope.”

“They came to save us from ourselves. They came so we might relish in the release as

they destroy us so slowly. We are their fodder. We are so happy to let them do their beautiful

and horrible work on us.” Sam said, his voice beginning to take on a sing-song cadence.

“Jackson, you need to take him somewhere else. The kids can hear him,” said a voice

just behind him. Matt and Tamara came up to him, their eyes dark and haggard. They had taken

in Julian and Sophia and became their guardians. They were both strong, both survivors.

Jackson respected them because they helped keep the group together and on task.

Before the others came, he had been content living on his own until he either died or the

evil finally caught up with him. With the handful of people that now huddled together with him,

they eked out the best existence they could. .

“Please,” Tamara pleaded. “I understand he’s your friend but he can’t stay here.”

“I know,” was all Jackson could reply. He rubbed the grey stubble on his chin, a habit

when he had to make difficult decisions.

“If nothing else, get him to shut up. His ramblings are unnerving everyone. Jesse is

convinced that if we listen to him much more, the same thing could happen to us.” Matt said. He

gave a quick glance to the madman and shuddered.

In the time before They came, people worried about diseases spreading only through

physical organic means. But evil is an idea and evil is now tangible, it made sense that it could

spread through more than just contact. Who is to say that it couldn’t spread through words?

Jackson finally nodded his head in agreement. The couple hurried back to camp, leaving him

with his decision.

Heavily, he said. “Sam, c’mon. Let’s go on up to the peak.” Sam stopped gibbering for

a moment and gave him a toothy grin. Jackson wanted to scream at the sight of it, instead he

sighed and started up the dusty unused road. Sam followed behind walking in his own winding

way. The peak was just a wide spot in the road as it wound around and down the other side. The

view was normally spectacular but now all it showed were sick forests and the pitted outline of a

taken city. One side of the road was a small incline; the other was a deep and sudden ledge. The

ground was far, far below.

“A god is close! See?” Sam jabbed a crooked finger out toward the cityscape. In the

nauseating glow that radiated from the town, there was a hint of movement. Jackson’s stomach

lurched. He could just see over the buildings a horrible and unfathomable creature was indeed

roaming its streets. He tried not to think of the torment the remaining citizens were enduring.

Sam broke into a shuffling kind of dance. The scarf around his neck billowed and

Jackson caught a glimpse of the protrusions that moved underneath. As Sam danced up and

down, Jackson plopped down on a boulder. He knew what he had to do. At his hip was a large

Bowie knife but there was no way he could watch his friend die like that. He wasn’t even sure if

that would kill him at this point. Instead, he would push him over the ledge. If the height didn’t

kill him, surely one of the splintery pines below would.

Closing his eyes a flood of memories came to him. He and Sam working their first jobs

as young men. Drinking and carousing and fighting and living. As they grew old and married

they grew apart. They didn’t see each other for many years, not until after the end of the world.

Not until Jackson had settled into his mountain retreat after running from his young son. The son

he found feasting on his own mother, using stubby tentacles coming from his mouth. A tear

escaped the corner of his eye as he shook the memory away.

Sam was hale and hearty when he arrived with the group in tow. They had just buried

Sam’s sister who had gone a murderous spree and indiscriminately killed everyone she could

reach. His own wife was one of her victims.

When Sam appeared with the group, Jackson had been seriously considering suicide.

The only thing stopping him was the fact that those who committed suicide came back. Their

semi-tangible spirits returned, vicious and blood-thirsty.

Jackson rubbed his stubble again and opened his eyes. He blinked, momentarily

confused. The world was darker than before. To his horror, he realized that the dim nightlight in

the sky had gone out. It was true night again and patches of clouds were opening up. Through

force of will, he kept himself from looking at those dazzling stars. Off in the dark distance he

heard a wet ripping sound. It was soon replaced with a mad scrambling.

Taking knife in hand he called out, “Sam? You there?”

“Yes Jackson. I am. I feel so much better now.” Sam said from the dark, but his voice

was different, as if he was talking through a tin horn. He heard the same scrambling sound

coming towards him and readied himself. What sanity Jackson had been holding onto nearly

broke when Sam’s head came into view. Walking on a multitude of short pointed legs, the head

scuttled towards him. They eyes had a greenish glow as they fell upon Jackson. “I must go to

my God.”

Just behind the head, the rest of Sam’s body lumbered up. It stumbled stupidly, the gory

stump of a neck oozing something brackish. Jackson stood up and sheathed his knife. “You

want to go to your God?” he asked the thing.

“Oh yes, more than anything.” There was such pleasure in its voice. Jackson might as

well be offering it a decadent meal.

“Go meet it then.” In one swift motion he raised his leg and kicked the head as hard as he

could over the cliff. It disappeared noiselessly into the dark. The headless body still shambled

around, directionless. He gripped it by the shoulder and led it to the cliff. It grabbed him and he

readied for a fight. Instead it just held him for support. He detached the hand and pushed.

Keeping his head down, Jackson walked back to camp. He could only hope that if (or

when) the evil infected him, someone would be kinder than he. The others were right; Sam

should have died at the first signs of his madness.

Up ahead he heard a sound and stopped. A deer was crossing the trail. It looked up, six

red eyes blinked at him. Its expression showed disinterest instead of fear. After a beat, it

continued on its way. Cautiously he continued on. When he returned to camp, Matt was there to

meet him.

“We are leaving in the morning. A giant horror stalks the city and it’s already affecting

the area. We’ll follow the river west deeper into the mountains.” Jackson told him.

“And Sam?” Matt asked.

“Taken care of.” Jackson disappeared into his cabin.

The next morning he was woken by a scream. Jumping from his bed he wrenched the

door open. The camp stood together some yards off, pointing at his feet. He looked down. Sam’s

head looked up at him.

“I must go to my God,” the head said. Jackson heard the hammer of a gun cock.

“Everybody, get back inside,” he commanded. Quickly they rushed back, except for

Matt who had a rifle aimed at the creature. “I’ll take care of this. Get inside.” After a moment

Matt obeyed. Jackson shut the door on the head. The head patiently stood there and waited.

When the door opened again a burlap sack suddenly enveloped it. It only struggled a little before

becoming docile.

“I’ll take you to your goddamn maker.” Jackson growled. He tied the bag shut and went

back into his cabin and packed a few supplies. When he returned Matt and the children were

standing here.

“You can’t be serious,” Sophia said. “Please say you aren’t serious.”

“Get them all out of here. Remember, follow the river.” Jackson told them, picked up the

sack, and started down the trail.

***

The others were getting settled in camp while Julian finished gathering firewood. He

froze as something moved in the trees. At first he thought it might be a deer or rabbit. No one

hunted alone, in case the animals had…changed. Picking up his sticks he hurried back to their

camp. He chanced a look over his shoulder. Immediately the youth dropped his load and broke

into a dead run.

“Matt! Come quick!” he yelled breathlessly as he skidded to a stop. Matt and two of the

other men stepped out, guns at their side. “He’s back. He came back and found us.”

“Slow down. Who did?” Matt put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Jackson. I just saw him.”

“Okay, we’ll deal with it.” Matt exchanged a look with the other men. If Jackson did

give that thing back to its maker, then Jackson wasn’t whole anymore. “Tamara,” he called out,

“break down camp. Get everyone ready to move.”

“There is no need for that,” Jackson said. He was standing just inside the clearing the

circle of battered tents and lean-to’s sat. “We mean you no harm.” There was an echo in his

voice that sent shivers down everyone’s spine. From behind, Sam’s head skittered. The head

had shrunk to half its normal size. It climbed up Jackson and perched on a broad shoulder.

“We mean you no harm,” it repeated like an infernal parrot from Hell.

“Why did you do it?” Matt asked as a sudden flurry of work happened behind him. “You

had to know this was going to happen.”

“They aren’t so bad, not really. I was shown the Abyss. I stared right into it and I finally

understood everything. I understood the hunger of the universe.” Jackson told him.

“You know you aren’t leaving this spot, right?” Matt asked.

“You know you aren’t leaving this life, right?” Sam sneered from his perch. His voice

was a mix vehemence and loathing. “Don’t expect death to be a release either. Even your souls

can’t escape our beautiful torture.”

“Shut up,” Sophia cried. Tamara quickly grabbed her and set her back to tearing down

the camp. Matt and the two others stood there facing off with the damned duo, giving the others

time. Jackson said nothing more, he just smiled.

“To hell with this,” Matt said in a sudden fit of anger. He raised his rifle and blew a hole

in the middle of Jackson’s head. Sam immediately sprung off and sailed towards them, an angry

grimace on its face. One of the others caught it in mid-air with a well aimed bullet. Both dead

creatures billowed a noxious steam as they oozed on the ground

The group had broken camp in record time. They had barely made it fifty yards before

the ground shook and everything took on a green hue. Tamara screamed first. Above them,

massive tentacles reached down from the low clouds. Julian looked up at them, morbidly trying

to catch a glance of what they were connected to. Sophia broke the spell by forcibly shoving

him. The monstrosities reached for the humans, tearing swathes of trees and brush away in their

wake. Everywhere they touched the ground blackened.

The children shivered in the deep shade. Sophia lay with her head on her brother’s leg.

All the adults were gone. They didn’t survive the horror from the sky. Julian couldn’t make

their screams silence in his head. He didn’t want to know why they sounded so distorted before

they abruptly stopped. All he knew was that they were alone. There was no one to trust and

fewer places to hide. He didn’t want to believe that it was only a matter of time before the

madness caught them or they fell into the arms of something evil.

He tried to remember life before these ancient corrupted ones had wrecked havoc on the

Earth. The memories were fleeting though, quick images of cartoons and playing with friends.

Of school and lessons. All he could clearly remember now was a gray afternoon thier aunt had

been babysitting them. She came into the room with a strange expression and asked them if they

were ready to prostrate themselves to the Great Ones. What happened after that, he chose not to

remember.

Sophia stirred. “Hey, we should keep going,” he told her. She agreed and then stretched.

“What’s that whistling sound?” she asked. He listened and heard it too, realizing that it

had been going on for some time. It started so subtly he didn’t pay it any attention.

“It can’t be anything good,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Around them the trees open up. The bark parted in autopsy-like splits, showing bloody

and pulpy messes underneath. They pulsed with life. Fibrous strands shot from the masses and

connected the trees with each other. A dripping red web quickly surrounded the two of them.

Their new cage slowly contracted around them. In a desperate panic, Julian and Sophia

scrambled around to find a way out. The whistling grew louder. Whimpering, they clung to

each other and prayed that their end would be quick.

By Michael R Collins

Michael R. Collins was born at a very young age in the wilds of southern Idaho.  After a few decades he finally got his fill of all the sagebrush and rattlesnakes he could eat and journeyed forth to the creative bosom of Austin, Texas.  Writing has always been tantamount to breathing, and he’s done a lot of both.  Harboring massive commitment issues, he tends to write across all genres.  Sticking mainly with dark fiction (to placate the evil monkeys in his head) his first novel, Night Shall Overtake has been published by Black Bed Sheet Books.
When not writing he’s daydreaming about writing at work.  Or playing bass.  Or daydreaming about playing bass while writing.  Or broadcasting his live radio show online at www.live365.com/stations/saintzero.

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