Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The Dark Silting the Veins
by Felix Hooke

They'd found her lying in the dirt, fifty feet off the road, cold and filthy, barely alive.
Now Matthew knelt in the back of the ambulance and checked the oxygen mask strapped to the old woman's face, pressed his stethoscope to her nightgown and heard a dry rattling, more like the snap of shuffled cards than a steady whooshing.
His surgical shears parted the rotten cloth of her right pajama leg. Her calf muscle was gone, torn away, ragged ends of veins and ligaments hanging from her thigh like wires from a half built electrical device.
Speechless, he touched her tibia, wondering if arthritis could have gnarled the bone, or turned it brown and ridged, so much like a knotted walking stick. He exhaled through his nose and turned away. "Harry?" he said, unsure what words would come next.
"I'm driving as fast as I can, ok? Any faster and the ambulance is going to turn over," Harry shouted over the diesel roar of the engine. "These windy back roads are a freaking nightmare. How's she doing?"
"Not so good, Harry." he whispered. He'd cut away the cloth on her other leg and found it fuzzed and green. Beyond rational thought, his training guided his shears up through the damp wool of her nightgown, crotch to throat in one easy slice.
Matthew dropped the shears and sat down hard on the corrugated steel floor. Her torso was fleshless, exposed. And infested. Something, some blind rodent squeezed through the flexing tunnel of her small intestine. Her lungs were twin blackbirds. One of them turned it's head and looked at him, with the bored, unimpressed manner of all birds, everywhere, peering through the wooden rails of her ribcage. He and his brother ruffled their wings, fluffing gently with each breath.
The corner of her mouth twitched. Between the black feathers of her lungs, where her heart should be, something raw shifted and turned away from the light.
Matthew leaned forward, peeled back one eyelid with his thumb, gripping a penlight in his fist like a stabbers knife, and shone the light into her eye. He'd expected a maggoty hole, or at best a milky cataract, but her pupils were clear, the sclera as clean and white as a healthy child's. The iris was rich amber, with emerald and sapphire chips. It glittered like some masterwork in a jewelers case.
The pupil contracted at the light's rude penetration, and her jaw fell open, and she screamed, a deafening howl like a tornado tearing through a thousand dead trees. He fell hard as the ambulance jerked to the right, and in a sickening instant he felt Harry's shock at the sudden noise, his panicked overcorrection, the skipping tires on patchy asphalt, his own body weightless as the truck began to tip, balancing for an instant on two tires, off the road into a gulley before an oak tree punched through the grille and he was dashed against a wall and knocked senseless.


Chewing, he thought. Something eating something?
What is. Where am?
Matthew was awake but didn't know it yet. Sensation happened without forming a coherent whole. Pain in a hundred small places and one or two big ones, and he shifted to relieve an unbearable and growing ache in his knee, which brought mind and body slowly back together.
He lay on the ceiling of the overturned ambulance. The white square wrappers of medical supplies drifted everywhere, rendering the boxy interior snowy and unreal. A heavy white suitcase lay atop his broken leg. He moaned in pain and confusion.
The chewing stopped. He could hear something dripping. Then a long breath drawn by shuddering wings, and he remembered the woman on the stretcher, now crouched and feasting upon his partners half-hollowed torso. Two amber rings, flecked with blue and green, found him in the dark. Then it lunged.
He kicked blindly and his toe caught the metal door that separated the cabin from the rear of the ambulance, snapping it shut just as the thing leapt. It impacted wetly against the reinforced steel, then found the window and wriggled through, fingernails like tiny shells slashing purple stripes into his legs. Matthew shrank away and saw that the creature was stuck, the edges of the window now wedged into the spaces between it's ribs.
Blood pulsed out of his thighs in a hot and spreading pool. The thing strained forwards, it's ribs flexing and cracking, like it would have him even if it meant tearing itself in two. He wriggled to the back door found it sealed shut, the handle bashed and useless.
White flashes started to interrupt the flow of his vision as he began to slip into shock. In staccato bursts, he saw the thing, now through to it's hips. The white suitcase. His ruined legs. The suitcase.
The suitcase. Of course! The creature's hand seized his ankle, and he slapped it away, heaved the suitcase onto his chest and thumbed the latches open. The ON button depressed with a satisfying click. The thing was through the hole. The suitcase chirped, then chimed. She was upon him, clawing her way up his body. He snatched the paddles and pressed them against her chest. A single blackbird eye peered out at him.
A blast of electricity shot through her corrupted body. Her chest was a flurry of panicked wings that burst into flames just after the third jolt, just before the defibrillator's battery died. She fell back, stinking smoke pouring from her mouth. Matthew smiled. As consciousness slipped away, he thought he could again hear chewing, though it was a smaller sound than before. Like a rat gnawing through a wall. Or out of it's cage.


In the ashen dawn, some hours later, Matthew struggled through the shattered windshield and rose to his feet. He breathed in the cold morning air, black wings shuddering in his chest. Between them, in his core, something raw shifted and turned in it's new nest.
He was hungry. He began to walk.

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Raised among the Hill Clans of Western Massachusetts, Mr. Hooke now lives and works in Philadelphia. Rhapsodic fawning and general hate mail can be sent to


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