Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

garden

“Gardening shears? You’re sure about that?”

“Without a doubt. It’s the murder weapon. Hector Williams’ fingerprints are all over it. The blood is his wife’s.”

Ruben stood up in his bedroom, excited by the news. One of the church members had apparently developed a guilty conscience. In exchange for immunity, he gave the department a pair of bloody gardening shears he was hiding for his pastor. There was now ample evidence to try and convict Hector Williams for the murder of his wife.

Vasquez hung up the phone and dressed. His wife was away for the weekend, staying at her mother’s in another county. Ruben was glad for this. It was two in the morning, and he hated waking her up inadvertently when working on a case.

He approached the front door when, like a peal of thunder, a crash rang out from the back of his house. It sounded like a window breaking. Ruben pulled his weapon from his belt and stalked towards the back door, slowly and silently. On the floor lay a brick surrounded by sparkling shards of broken glass. Peering out the window and exposing himself to the humid night air, he saw nothing.

He was about to unlock the door when he heard another crash, this time from the front room. Running as fast as his tired legs would permit, Ruben reached the front door in a matter of seconds. Upon reaching his destination however, he immediately realized that this had been a hasty, careless mistake, and it was going to cost him dearly.

The sound of gunfire reverberated through the home as Ruben staggered forward. There was now a bullet in the outer left side of his back, but he felt no pain. The adrenaline coursing through his veins permitted no feeling but that of self preservation. But he had to act fast—otherwise, that feeling would be worthless. He spun around and fired his pistol before even glimpsing a target. Nonetheless, the weapon’s discharge had been quite effective, as the man who had presumably thrown the brick through the back window fell to the floor with an agonized cry. The intruder, shot in the chest and far worse off than Vasquez, managed to lift his gun for a moment, but the detective bit through his pain and rushed forward, kicking the weapon from the man’s hand.

The intruder himself died within seconds, but Ruben didn’t see it happen. All he could see were stars and then blackness. Something had forced its way down to the back of his head, and it very nearly cracked open his cranium. He fell to his face, fighting hard against the blackness, using every ounce of willpower he had to stay conscious. Rolling onto his back, he fired the weapon again, this time with his eyes closed. He strained to open them quickly, and was met with the sight of a large man in a suit holding a baseball bat and covered in blood. As this second intruder fell backwards, a third man was revealed to be standing behind him, already turning on his heel in an attempt to flee the scene. Ruben shot once and missed, but his second round reached its quarry in the calf muscles of the right leg. The man’s high pitched shriek was the only thing that kept Ruben from finally drifting into benightedness.

It took about five minutes, but Detective Ruben Vasquez used prayer and willpower to stand up on his feet and walk towards the third intruder, the only one still living. When he reached him and turned his crawling body onto its back with his foot, he wasn’t surprised at all to be staring down into the face of Hector Williams.

“You,” snarled the bleeding preacher, “you will answer for this. I am a warrior for the faith.”

Ruben’s face remained stoic, mostly because of the pain, but he almost came close to chuckling before he replied.

“You’re not a man of faith,” he said. “You’re a man of fear and hatred.”

Williams closed his eyes and bit his lip, the wrath and malice pulling taut all the muscles in his face.

“Sinner—”

“Shut up,” wheezed Vasquez. “Why did you come here? Why were you and your cronies after me? I wasn’t the only cop trying to put you away.”

“You judged me,” Williams replied, the pain in his voice becoming more and more evident. He was losing a lot of blood. “You insulted me.”

“Doesn’t God condemn personal vengeance? Doesn’t he condemn murder?”

“You…you don’t…have the right to judge me.” His breath was growing ragged. Ruben knew he had to call an ambulance for Williams as well as himself, but he was tempted to let the man bleed out and suffer. His wrestling match with his hatred was short-lived, however, and his integrity came out on top as he reached into his coat for the cell phone. As his ten second conversation with the dispatcher played out, Williams ceased all movement and closed his eyes. Ruben dropped the phone and stumbled towards him.

“Hang on,” he said. “They’re on their way.”

As Ruben grabbed Williams by the shoulder and shook him, the murderer opened his eyes. Somehow, they looked different. Hate was still there, pain was still there, and fear…but there was something else. Vasquez could only approximate the look to one of surprise.

“You ain’t gonna let me die?” whispered Hector.

“No,” said Vasquez, his voice tinged with disgust. “I’m not like you. You and your congregation give church a bad name, you know that? But no. You live. If only so Beth can rest in peace.”

“We follow God,” mumbled the pastor. “We follow God.”

Ruben wanted to say a lot of things. He wanted to tear Hector a new one with insults. He wanted to call him a small, pathetic little man who only pretended to follow the Lord. He wanted to say that his cult followed not God, but an evil man who himself followed nothing but anger. He wanted to tell him how heartbreaking it was that there were people like him in the world, leading people towards evil under the guise of truth. Thankfully, these people were in the minority of those who professed to believe. Ruben only wished that the world saw it that way. He wanted to say all these things, but he didn’t. He simply held on to Hector and waited for the ambulance.

“I’m a godly man,” sobbed the dying hypocrite. “I’m a godly man. I’m a—”

The sirens could now be heard. Detective Vasquez spoke once more before the responders bolted through the door. He said them not only to Williams, but to himself as well.

“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein though judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”

 

 

THE END

Thirty two minutes later (Vasquez kept track of time religiously), Ruben and Rick pulled into a gravel parking lot in front of a burgundy building. The structure was tall and looming, with an air of classical beauty about it. It was the church, and about twenty of its members were standing outside, their faces expressionless.

A few squad cars were already on the scene, and the officers present were separating the church members into groups and interviewing them. Vasquez knew that this operation had to be handled delicately. There wasn’t yet any actual evidence linking the pastor or the church to the death of Zarabeth. The cops were simply talking to her friends, but Ruben was gazing up at the high windows of the church with longing. He needed to see what was in there.

“Hey, James,” he said, tapping a plain clothes officer on the shoulder. “You been up there yet?”

The man nodded.

“Yeah, Vasquez. We combed every inch of the place. Nothing in the building.”

Ruben frowned before replying.

“Well, are they talking? Anything interesting?”

“No. A few nods, a yes or a no—that’s it. I get a bad vibe from the lot of them. Too damn quiet. Not like any church I’ve ever seen.”

Ruben looked back at Andrews and gave him an “I told you so” kind of smirk.

“I don’t know,” continued James. “Maybe they’re just nervous. Or heartbroken.” His tone was practically soaked in sarcasm.

“Uh huh,” said Ruben. He snaked his way through the groups of people, shifting his eyes all the while. Eventually, he found who he was looking for.

Hector Williams stood alone. The officers interviewing him had walked away as soon as they saw Vasquez approaching. Ruben didn’t think he would hesitate to talk to the man, but he was wrong. There was something strange about the preacher’s demeanor, facial expression, and sheer presence. Though not especially tall, he somehow towered over everyone else. And that smile…Ruben had been in gunfights, seen murder first-hand, and even been involved in hostage situations, but no moment in his entire life had ever frightened him to the core like Hector’s smile now did.

But Ruben’s bravery was well-renowned. After a brief moment of eye-locking, the detective extended a hand to the suspect.

“Hector Williams? Detective Vasquez. I’m sorry about your wife.”

Hector’s smile went away, briefly and unconvincingly. The perturbation remained.

“Thank you, officer,” he answered. “Truly means a lot. Her soul rests with the Almighty now. I just can’t imagine who could have done this to her.”

Vasquez shifted his feet. It was difficult to talk to this man, especially due to the likelihood of him being a wife killer. But a preacher…a man of God, the God Ruben himself believed in…it would have been the height of hypocrisy. And yet, here the man stood, smiling, pretending to care for his departed wife, and lying straight to Ruben’s face.

“So,” continues Vasquez, “you’ve been asked the usual questions, I presume?”

“Yes sir. I’ve been asked questions all day. About the quality of my marriage, about Beth’s personal life, all kinds of things. But no one’s asking themselves the important questions.”

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Williams?”

Hector’s face changed. It became a visage of grief, and Vasquez actually believed it to be genuine.

“No one’s asking,” Williams said quietly, “if this happened to Beth for a reason. If God carried this out as an act of vengeance. Not one of your officers has considered that. You’re all blind. You’re all blind to the fact that this is an example of His power. A lesson, that vows made before Him are to be obeyed.”

“Such as fidelity, for instance?”

Hector’s expression remained unchanged, though he did seem to glare at Ruben a little harder.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s a big one.”

“Well,” sighed Ruben, “I’m gonna tell you two things right now, Hector. Number one is that God didn’t do this. God doesn’t cut people’s eyes out, with blades or otherwise.”

“I know that,” replied Williams. “Do you think I’m ignorant? All I was saying was that He uses certain people as his instruments. I don’t know who did it, and I wish it hadn’t happened.”

“Well, that’s thing Number Two, Hector. You do know who did it. You did it. You or one of your mimes. We’re not sure yet, but don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. We’ll get the evidence, and then, we’re going to cuff you.”

Within the span of a microsecond, the preacher changed from Hector Williams into something else entirely. The change was so sudden and shocking that Vasquez and a few of the officers standing by put their hands on their pistols. The man was now an animal, his face beet red and his voice explosive.

“How dare you!” he snarled. “You, an unbeliever, accusing me and threatening me with arrest? I loved my wife. I miss her with my entire soul. You don’t have a clue who you are dealing with.”

“Oh,” smiled the ever brave Detective Vasquez, “I think I do. I’m dealing with a liar. A wife-killer. A hypocrite. I can’t do nothin’ about it yet, but I will. So go back inside your church and…grieve for your wife. Or for yourself.”

Hector stared into the detective’s eyes. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, he rushed back into the church, with most of his flock following him. For the next few hours, the police searched the church, the preacher’s home, and the woods. All three areas were within seven miles of where Beth’s body had been discovered.

They didn’t find a thing.

 

The cold air bit down hard onto the congregation, and the thick fog filled their lungs to the point of smothering. It was a clichéd coincidence—the violent nihilism of these people was mirrored back to them by the environment.

But to the clan, it was holy.

There were fourteen of them, walking hurriedly in a close-knit formation. From afar, the group would have appeared to be silent, but if you had been there and were able to move in closer, your bone marrow would have melted due to sheer terror. The noise—every single one of them was whispering. Harsh, hissing tones that sounded like wicked spells or enchantments. They were praying—or, at least, they believed they were praying.

But in the center of the group, the noise changed. It was louder, but it sounded muffled. Dog-like whimpering is the closest approximation, and in fact, the maker of the noise was being treated worse than a dog.

After moving through the woods for about a mile, the people stopped at the base of a hill. The whimpering ceased as the group gathered in a circle around a single figure. It was a man. Clean-shaven, handsome, crew-cut, casual suit with a pink tie—he looked, for all the world, like a preacher.

“Brothers and sisters!” he cried, tears flowing copiously from his sunken eyes. “We have a demon in our midst! It sat next to you in the pews, it sang in the choir, and it lived under my roof.”

The crowd remained silent.

“It shared my bed!” screamed the man. “My house! My children!” He raised his hands and closed his eyes. “And now, it’s time to cast it out.”

A crumpled mass was pushed out of the circle and onto the man’s polished black dress shoes. It was a human being, a woman in a pink dress with a burlap sack over her head. Her whimpering increased in decibel and filled up with panic as the man lifted the sack from her bruised and bleeding face. She tried to pray through the rope between her jaws, tried to plead with the people, and tried not to look the man in the eye. But she couldn’t help it. She knew him intimately.

“Look at me.” He lifted her chin forcefully and put his face inches from her own. “You don’t deserve to look at a child of God. You don’t even deserve the gift of sight.”

Still clutching her jaw, he looked up towards the crowd and hollered.

“By grace, we gonna fix that problem! Glory! Amen!”

Like vultures crossbred with parrots, the macabre congregation resounded with mimicry, accompanied by a torrent of hoots and hollers.

The man pulled a pair of gardening shears from his suit. The woman was no longer whimpering.


What’s truly strange is the boy’s demeanor. He is quiet, tranquil, and courteous to the nurses. The scientists always figured it was an act, as they were sure the subject harbored intense resentment over his very existence, but the readings from the helmet showed otherwise. Though they couldn’t exactly read his thoughts, they could determine with high accuracy the patient’s emotions through his brain activity, and those emotions seemed unwaveringly positive. 

“I sure as hell wouldn’t be happy,” Dr. Grayson said one day in the control room. “Living like a rat in a cage from birth…”

“Are you feeling empathy for the subject, Leonard?” Asked Dr. Mora, chief engineer of the project. “Don’t forget: we must always remain completely detached. It’s the only way to achieve real scientific progress.”

The scientist paused for a moment before continuing.

“And don’t forget…that THING isn’t even human.”

The two scientists watched the camera feed of the room and measured the boy’s brain activity for the next several hours, hardly saying a word after Mora’s brief diatribe. It was now 8 p.m., and it was time for the weekly interview. 

Dr. Mora typed in the code to unlock the heavy titanium door and stepped within. Two armed guards accompanied him, but their guns didn’t contain bullets. Instead, they each contained a highly charged round of electro-magnetic energy set to a specific frequency. This energy was specially formulated to knock out the patient and render even his unconscious mind virtually stagnant. If used on anyone other than Patient Y, however, it would literally boil their brain matter. It was a wonder of modern technology, a true scientific breakthrough rivaling that of the boy himself…but it had a severe limitation. Only one charge could be kept in each gun, meaning that each officer had one shot and one shot only if something went wrong. It couldn’t be recharged either – the force of the energy completely annihilated the gun during each of the tests. Thankfully though, the members of this dark project had never had to use the weapons. Patient Y was always exceedingly cooperative.

The door slammed shut with a robotic thud behind the three men as Dr. Mora walked towards his creation.

“Hello, Patient Y.”

The boy looked up at the scientist, straining his neck as always due to the immense weight of the helmet.

“Hello, Dr. Mora,” he said in a timid, soothing voice. “How are you today?”

Mora chuckled.

“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine, dear boy. The real issue at hand is how you are doing.”

“I’m wonderful,” the boy began mechanically, “just wonderful. The nurses are taking excellent care of me.”

“How are your studies progressing?”

“Excellently. I learned about mitotic cell rounding today. Quite fascinating.”

Dr. Mora, as well as all the other scientists on the project, were taken aback every single day by the modified teen. He never asked for friends, never asked for company of any kind, never asked about his parents, never questioned authority, and never asked to leave. Not many people in the facility believed in the human soul – but they couldn’t help but reference that intangible word when describing their creation. They had engineered a human being without a soul…nothing more than pure organics and advanced thought processes. 

“That’s great, Y,” said Mora after a brief moment of pondering. “So…no problems at all? Of any kind?”

The boy looked down and put his tongue in his cheek. As he did so, Dr. Mora was overcome by the strangest feeling, as if time was standing still and as if the very fabric of creation hinged on the patient’s next words. 

The boy looked up after what felt like an eternity. 

“I just wish I didn’t have to wear this helmet,” he said.

The guards clenched their weapons tightly as the doctor hesitated before replying:

“My dear boy…why? You’ve never complained about it before. You – ”

“Sir…” one of the guards said weakly.

“Not now,” shot Dr. Mora. “Now, Patient Y…”

“Sir…I can’t move.”

The color left Dr. Mora’s face as he turned to look at the guards. They stood there, still as marble statues, their faces contorted in fear. As Mora approached them though, it seemed as if the paralysis was temporary, as they both began to slowly lift up their weapons. Dr. Mora began to sigh in relief, but before he could even make a sound, the men pointed the guns at each other and fired. They fell to the ground screaming as all their brain processes began to shut down. Blood leaked from their eyes, and…

Oh, Dr. Mora?” said a sing song voice behind him. The doctor turned around, his heart threatening to explode from his chest in fear, and saw his abomination standing there…without his helmet. Blood oozed down the boy’s face, and Mora soon noticed why – the helmet lay on the ground, with the Patient’s scalp still attached to it. 

“W-w-w…”

“So,” said the boy, cutting off Mora’s frightful stutters, “I feel like going outside today.”


His brain didn’t work right – well, it’s actually more fit to say that it worked too right. 

Signals are sent back and forth between our minds and our bodies at a million times per second, precipitated by external stimuli. 

The brain of Patient Y, however, worked at a rate a thousand times stronger than any human in history. He had been this way since birth, and the first few years of his life were spent in a bed with a collection of wires and electrodes attached to his head.

The scientists who engineered him had no choice. Upon birth, his mother’s head literally exploded due to a powerful electro-magnetic pulse emanating from his cerebrum. No one really cared that the prostiture they had used to grow him was dead, but they did care about their own safety. 

The helmet they had constructed, the one built before the organic elements of this experiment had even begun, malfunctioned three days after the boy’s birth. 23 scientists were killed and over half of the facility was demolished – all from the power of the mind.

But they perfected the process, and it’s worked just fine for 17 years. Now, Patient Y is awake most of the time…but he must wear the helmet for the rest of his “life”. 

James Mauldin didn’t want to go to sleep.

For 5 days now, he had been on a strict regimen of coffee and diet pills. Hallucinations had begun to bombard him, but he didn’t mind. A shadow here, a whisper there – he knew they weren’t real, so it didn’t matter to him at all.

But the dreams…or whatever they truly were…were very real to James. That’s why he hadn’t slept in 5 days, why his wife had left him, and why he had lost his job.

It had always been the same way. A palpable force of some kind seemed to permeate every molecule in the air right as he began to fall asleep. He would fight it – trying to move, trying to scream – but it never worked. The darkness enveloped him every single time.

He would be transported to a farm house with a white picket fence surrounding it. It was always a starless night, with nothing but a faint and foreboding glow of scarlet emanating from some unknown source and illuminating everything to where it looked like blood.

Invariably, James would grab onto the fence with both hands. Whenever he did this, he would feel pain from every nerve in his hands and pull them to his face. Once his palms turned upward, sunlight would flood the area and replace the red glow. His hands would be bleeding in a thousand places and the white fence would now be rusted barbed wire.

Slowly, a dark cloud would move towards him along the ground. He knew from the start of these recurring dreams that the cloud was there to consume things. Love, his family, his confidence, his sanity. And he knew that someday, during one of these dreams, the inevitable would come – his life would be consumed as well.

Unbeknownst to James, his five sleepless nights had actually been years. His mind could no longer accurately perceive time, or anything else for that matter.

“Don’t let me sleep! Don’t let me sleep!”
The guards sedated him, tightened his straitjacket, and turned off the lights.

 

this was inspired by a childhood dream of mine