by Mike "corpsemonger" Wasion
I love you, Herbert.
I...love you, Mary.
. . . . .
I'm going to have a little boy, Herbert.
. . . . .
I.....I don't know what's wrong, Herbert....I don't know what's wrong....
. . . . .
Herbert West stood in the cavernous darkness of the mansion basement and stared at what used to be his wife.
He regarded the feelings she used to spark in him. No one had ever made him feel those things. Not the flings he had in college....they were the definition of meaningless. Not even his mother, who doted on him as if he were the second coming, and loved him more than her own life.
Mary had made him feel things.
She made him feel for something other than himself, for something other than science, for something other than his endless pursuit to go farther.
And with the coming arrival of their son, the seeds of West's humanity could finally be allowed to grow.
But just as soon as the prospect arrived, the ground turned sour.
There were specifics. It didn't matter.
West was always one to focus on the bottom line. The big picture.
The diagnosis, the prognosis, the second opinion (the first and last West had ever bothered to get), none of that mattered.
It came down to one thing.
His baby was dying. It was killing it's mother in the process. There was nothing anyone could do. Nothing West could do. For all of his medical and scientific prowess, there was nothing even the mighty Doctor West could do.
Well....nothing Mary's West could do.
The West that existed before Mary would never take no for an answer.
Would never accept defeat.
As Mary and their son died, so did this new West, fetal and weak.
And in it's stead, the Old West rose up to reclaim itself.
One sunny afternoon, he checked Mary out of the hospital, and took her to his family's estate deep in the woods away from any distraction.
She would be his patient, and his patient alone.
She was a puzzle. A puzzle of flesh he was determined to solve.
Over the following days and weeks he attempted to stave off whatever it was that was ravaging her and the baby.
He almost didn't notice when she died.
It registered with some part of him maybe, didn't really hit him until about a week later.
He had continued trying to treat her. He refused to be beaten.
When he was doing a skin sample one afternoon, and vomited without even thinking about it, it set in.
He would need to re-strategize.
He tucked her into her bed and sealed the room.
Around then he began to hear the voices.
. . . . .
He first heard them in his study.
He sat in his old leather chair by the empty fireplace, it's coldness illuminating his own. Dim light from the dying sun cast itself across the floor, barely reaching him in his brooding.
From the darkness just beyond, he heard it.
West hadn't considered for even a second that he could be going insane. He would never consider such a thing. It simply wasn't possible. Insanity was for peasants. Insanity was beneath him.
If he was hearing something, he was hearing something.
So he listened.
"Doctor....do you believe death is the end of life?"
West didn't respond. He wasn't sure how....he could tell he was being herded into a riddle, and riddles are merely boxes....what was in this box? What was being offered here, and by who?
He continued to listen.
"Doctor....do you believe that death is the end of life?"
It was clear that he needed to take a step. Right or wrong, his answer would push things forward, whatever was going on.
"....Yes....death is the end of life...."
"No. Death is not the end of life. Death is another KIND of life."
This game was absurd. An obvious trap. As immediately as he'd been intrigued, he'd become infuriated. A voice, a voice intrudes his home and wastes his time with childish riddles? Whatever was on the table, West refused to grab at it like a hungry mouse.
West leapt to his feet, but the voice cut off his wrath.
"Still your pride, Doctor. It pleases us here, but now is not the time. You need to learn before we can proceed."
A shape began to step forth from the darkness. It did not step fully forward, stopping at the edge of the light. Few details could be gleaned. It appeared to be a man, tall and thin....it's skin glistened in the weak illumination, and who or whatever it was appeared to have no clothes.
"You know me, Doctor. And we know you. There is much to discuss."
West's resolve trembled. He was intimidated by no man. Truly, West believed he was better than all men. But something about this visitor filled him with a sense that....at the very least, he was finally in the presence of someone who shouldn't be talked down to.
But he would not show weakness. He dared not. He knew how he judged those that showed weakness to him.
"I've never met you in my life....what could we possibly have to discuss?"
The man in the shadows smiled. West couldn't see it. But somehow he was certain he did.
He held out his hand--bony, and thin, with overlong fingers all the same size, and all ending in ragged yellow nails--and resting within it was a single, pale mushroom.
Apprehensively, West reached out and grabbed it from the stranger's clammy hand. "What....what is this?"
As if in response, a crimson fluid began to pour from the broken stem onto the doctor's hand. A keening, high-pitched squeal began to emanate from the withered fungus, and West dropped it to the floor with a start.
The crimson ichor continued to pour from the tiny stem, forming a pool around it that seemed to have no end in sight.
"Surely you recognize your handiwork, Doctor?"
"Don't tell me you don't remember the ravine....that wet autumn all those years ago....."
And all at once, West remembered.
. . . . .
The mansion seemed to go down forever; floor unto sub-floor unto forgotten wing unto basement unto sub-basement....and deep within the mansion lay something not unlike a sewer. An entire fetid wing of pipes and chutes and grates separated by a river of filth carving itself right through the center.
Built into a system of caves, the foul river emptied itself into a ravine that flowed into the far side of Diamond Lake.
That's where he dumped his failures.
There was a fair current in the river, so West welded spikes onto metal balls and left countless floating in the vile water to grind up the meat drifting within. By the time these reached the ravine, they were little more than pulp. The fish got the rest.
One particularly rainy fall, West noticed something about the ravine surrounding the drainage. It was surrounded by thick patches of pale white and yellow mushrooms. It was the only area in the forest West had ever seen them. West got to thinking.
It became a favorite place of West's, he would spend long hours perched on a nearby rock overlooking the water and sit in the rain. Sometimes whole days would vanish staring at the drainage, and the mushrooms, and the mossy trees.
And he thought about things. Things he would try and tell himself were rational.
Things that were not.
. . . . .
"You remember, Doctor. You remember the hospital and the mother and the little blanket. You remember the misdose, and the rain and the mushrooms and the moss. And the little coughs. Don't lie to us, West. We invented lies. You remember everything. You know me well. And we....oh, we know you."
West did remember.
He felt no remorse, but the memory of remorse returned, and it made him feel uncomfortable. It made him uncomfortable that the stranger in the darkness knew him, knew inside of him, that West was, in a way, vulnerable.
It was the only thing that made him feel unclean.
West remembered. He remembered the way anyone remembered something unfathomable. He remembered it numb and detached, and clean and precise and very straightforward.
Isn't that what it was?
After all, he knew the girl would die when she came into the clinic.
Nine months pregnant, homeless, living on the street and on the run from an abusive boyfriend.
Seventeen years old and deeply ill from the bitter weather, the girl didn't have a chance.
Until she did.
While West was making preparations, a nameless intern wandered in and foresaw the good possibility of a complete turnaround after a cursory examination.
The meaningless ant wasn't looking at the whole picture.
How could he?
He was on the same level she was.
She might survive the sickness. Might.
But she was going to die no matter how you cut it.
She may survive this sickness, but there was always more awaiting her on the streets. More illness. More filth. More drugs, more boyfriends....she was a waste. Dead no matter what. And her child....
Her child was being thrown into a world more horrible than it could ever imagine. It had nothing in store for it but a future of hopelessness.
So he let the intern suggest the treatment, and quietly altered the dosage.
She went into a coma later that night. The intern was blamed and fired.
Out of the goodness of his heart, the good doctor offered to have the poor girl and her unborn child moved to a private facility more suited to care for such an extreme case. The administrators--who desperately wanted the incident behind them and wouldn't have questioned West anyway--graciously accepted.
If he hurried, he could pull enough strings to have her admitted that very night.
There was not time to make proper arrangements. He would take her himself.
Without thinking twice or asking once, they happily waved her out of their hospital and their lives forever.
He worked deep into the night to facilitate his project.
He knew he could keep her alive in spite of what he was going to do to her. She would die eventually, as she was fated to do, but she would live long enough.
His was a skill and an intellect that far surpassed those of his peers. His affiliation with the hospital and the university were soley for convenience; access to materials both raw and technical. He did his real work at the mansion.
And the simple task of keeping a mother alive while cut open indefinitely was well within his abilities.
Permuting some of the studies and findings of Dr. Shiro Ishii he had collected in the late ‘40s after the war (one of the few men who he held something akin to an admiration for), West had perfected the technique quite early in his career.
He left her on the bank of the ravine, up to her waist in the swirling flow of the drainage, her womb open to the elements. He used his knowledge and the talents God had given him to keep her alive while nature did to the child what it would.
He put traps around the girl in dense clusters to keep away the scavengers, and checked and tended to her daily.
Before too long, the mushrooms began to sprout.
He hadn't bothered to keep the child alive.
All of that was spent on the mother. Her offspring was left in it's little house without a roof.
The womb had been cut and pried open so that the child could be exposed to the elements. The rain and the damp and the cold. Some of the drainage water splashed into the open cavity. And within a matter of days the same pale yellow and white mushrooms that dotted the banks of the ravine began to grow on the child.
It was just as he thought. The mushrooms only grew on dead tissue.
Periodically, the girl would become semi-lucid--open her eyes, look around, make noises--mostly she just made little coughing sounds. When this happened, West placed a small cloth over her eyes, and she would immediately grow docile. Within a moment, she was asleep, like a bird.
He kept the infection down, and made sure the weather didn't kill the girl before he was done with her.
Over the days that followed, as the sky held gray and the rain and drizzle seemed unending, the doctor watched as the would-be child became covered with the sickly fungus, buried beneath it until it could no longer be seen.
Only the vague shape of the child remained, a rapidly fading reminder of what might've been, in a different life, a different world.
The child had become a garden. It's mother, an incubator.
Finally, when the mushrooms were all in bloom, the girl could take no more.
She coughed her tiny cough, and crushed her eyes together and started almost to cry....and then she was gone. Nothing more.
West left her in the woods. She was nothing more than a flower pot.
He took the traps and let the scavengers do what they did. As there was less and less left of her, she slowly slid into the ravine and the fish made her nothing.
Her empty bones flowed out to Diamond Lake to be forgotten.
The child, however....the child was far from forgotten.
West removed the child from the stagnant womb, more a clump of mushrooms than anything, careful not to damage a single one. He wrapped it in a small blanket and took it to the house.
He set it on a table in one of his observation rooms, and thought. He had an idea.
An idea that set the entire thing into motion.
. . . . .
West had investigated a study once, in his in his freshman year at Miskatonic U, involving the response of plant life to external stimulus, such as music, touch, or even the human voice. Much to his initial surprise, a great deal of the findings at his disposal indicated that plants indeed reacted to their environment in an almost animal, albeit extremely rudimentary way.
Some years later, while studying the magical practices and beliefs of various cultures, West ran across the story of the mandrake root. A living thing, a root in the shape of a man grown from the earth beneath the gallows, where dripped semen from hanged men. From such a root could be bred a homunculus, an artificial life form obedient to it's breeder.
It was preposterous, of course....but the idea fascinated him.
When West finally began breeding rudimentary life forms of his own, it was through the means of stimulating cancerous cells to have a purpose, a design....rewriting diseases, manipulating viral strains and splicing genes....he was decades beyond his peers due not only his superior intellect but also his sheer willingness to do the experiments instead of talking about them, and debating whether or not they were right or wrong.
But he still was unable create something that could think, that could feel....creating organisms was nothing. Creating life....that remained beyond his reach.
He never forgot about the stories from time immemorial, of the ancients pursuing the very same goal he toiled on so arduously in this "enlightened" age.
To be beholden to no unworthy God, to become God, to command the elements as he saw fit.
And that rainy day, sitting on his mossy rock in the woods, pondering the pale mushrooms lining the banks of the ravine his mind drifted to Darwin, and to Sir Alexander Fleming, and back to the mandrake root....
And it all came together.
Could a fungus taking it's life from another form of life store some of that host within it? Could the recessive elements of that host be restimulated? Brought to the surface? Used as a base to breed a higher form of designer life?
It had to be tested. Research had to be done.
And as if gifted by the very God he sought to dethrone, the shivering mother-to-be stumbled reluctantly out of the rain, seeking help for her and the most precious thing to her in the world.
. . . . .
One mushroom at a time, he plucked his garden baby and performed every test possible on the fungus.
He'd forgotten what the would-be child's mother had even looked like.
He studied. And he studied. And studied, and studied, and studied and studied.
He pursued every avenue, with every technique at his disposal, and even invented a few along the way. But what he sought eluded him.
Eventually, he conceded that there was nothing there.
And in that moment, in that miniscule, private moment, he felt something.
The pangs of something.
And the moment he began to feel it coming, he put the entire experiment behind him.
Moved on, immediately. There was nothing there. No mother. No son.
It had never happened.
He took what was left of the child and left it at the banks of the ravine, amidst the clusters of mushrooms where it now blended in, a sort of homecoming.
And it was over.
Aside from some trains of thought the experiment seemed to inspire in West's later work, he never fully thought of it again.
. . . . .
He met Mary in the hospital.
She had come in with a gash on her thumb she had received during some house work. A tiny little thing. As it would turn out, it wouldn't even need stitches. But she was so afraid of the blood that she hurried to the clinic immediately.
Dr. West treated her, gave her a tetanus shot just to be on the safe side. She was terrified of needles, West could see it in her eyes. He knew terror when he saw it.
But he saw that she trusted him immediately as well. Something about West made her feel that she was safe. That she should just do what he said, and everything would be okay.
Looking into her eyes and seeing all of this, West found it hard to look away from her eyes.
She was the most gentle creature he'd ever seen.
And behind the animal excitement that that stirred in him, he found himself drawn to it in another way. A way he couldn't fully absorb, nor fathom. Not yet.
But it was there. And it grew.
And it was coming from her too.
She began to see him for every cold, every fever, every bruise.
One summer evening, she invited him to dinner.
Washing the dishes after the meal, a plate had slipped out of her soapy hand and crashed to the floor. She always was a clumsy girl. She knelt down to pick it up, and once again slashed her hand.
As if drawn by the scent of blood, West entered the kitchen. He reached for her hand, and she meekly offered it like a child.
The sight of her blood caused her to shiver. West took the snow white shard of porcelain in his fingers, and Mary flinched. But she didn't pull away.
He pulled the glass from her palm, and she made a little, animal yelp. A startled, stung, breathy little sound.
He looked into her big blue eyes and wiped a tear away. She looked back up into his, still shivering. Unable to move.
He took her in his arms.
They made love with a fire West had never known. She tore at him as if her very soul depended on it, until he feared that she would break.
He ran his fingers, still wet with her blood, through the flaxen silk of her hair, leaving long, sharp streaks of the deepest red.
There, drowned in the center of their passion, in the heat and the sweat and the blood and the truth, West finally knew what it was like to be a human.
And in that moment, as she lay sleeping, her head on his chest, detached from space and time and the rest of the world, West felt something. A pang he had run from, swallowed.
There was a single step in his life he had felt anything close to regret over taking.
He thought about the ravine, and the mushrooms and the rain.
As the orange rays of the dawn sun began to filter in through the bedroom window, he decided he would take it back.
Before the end of that summer, they were married. And before the end of that summer she was with child.
. . . . .
"Do you recognize me, Doctor?"
West felt a sense of dark familiarity wash over him. Again, he sensed the man in the shadows smile. The man opened his arms.
"Do you recognize me, Doctor?"
The man took a step forward, and another, closer toward the light. He reached up to his left arm, just beneath the shoulder. Something seemed to be growing there. he plucked it off, sending a squirt of crimson into the stale air.
He held it out in front of him so the doctor could see.
The damp, cold earth on the banks of the ravine slammed into West's mind.
The man stepped into the light. He rubbed his bony thumb against the base of the mushroom's head.
The hateful little face glaring out of the man's enormous, swollen cranium smiled.
"Momma had a baby."
He popped the head of the mushroom into the air with a crimson spray.
"....And it's head popped off."
And suddenly, West knew. He knew the way you understand the logic of a dream. The way he knew the man had been smiling in the darkness. He just knew.
"Are you not proud of the fruits of your labor? When you left me amongst my brethren on the banks of the ravine, would you have ever dreamed I would grow into this?"
The man took a moment to admire his form. He ran his talon-like hands over the taut, contused flesh of his naked body, tracing the contours of the almost skeletal frame. He seemed to be relishing the clammy dampness that encased him.
"It's....not possible....the experiment was a failure...."
"Experiment? There was no experiment. You were not an agent of science, as you told yourself. It was not science. It was madness. To cut open a mother's womb, to let the child rot inside her as she still lived....to keep her connected to it so that her precious life could be dumped into it's empty shell....to sacrifice the innocent to nature, to turn purity into a moldering parody of itself....did you really tell yourself it made sense? That you were serving science? You were creating art.
You were creating perversion, and insanity, and beauty. There was no experiment. Nor was there failure."
"You....you can't be....it's not possible...."
The man smiled. And this time West could see it.
Rows full of piranha teeth peered out from a mouth that looked as if someone had grabbed either side of it and stretched it out like Silly Putty. It took up the bottom half of the man's face. The top half was taken up by a baleful gargoyle set of eyes and pointed nose. The rest of the bulbous head seemed to thinly conceal a swollen, varicose brain, several times larger than the face struggling under it's weight.
"Impossible? Perhaps. And yet here I am. We love the taste of doubt, but we're more than happy to offer proof in this case. Would you like proof, Doctor?"
The man pressed his fingers against his spongy, throbbing temple. His jagged nails popped the surface with a gush of thick yellow fluid. The spidery fingers disappeared beneath the surface up to the third knuckle.
He peeled back the meaty layers of brain tissue like the skin of an orange. A gush of the clearish yellow fluid splashed to the floor.
West gasped. But he did not recoil. He leaned forward to confirm what his eyes were seeing.
The amber light of the dying sun illuminated something buried inside the man's brain, something hard at the very core like a peach pit.
A skeleton. A fetal skeleton nestled inside, curled as if it were in the womb.
West stared at the glistening thing in disbelief for a moment, before the man pushed the tissue back together, where it healed up instantly.
The man's impossible smile grew wider still.
"The design is BEAUTIFUL", the man shuddered in ecstacy. "Irrational and obscene and WONDERFUL. You certainly caught our attention with your work, Doctor. Your painterly defiling of the flesh impressed us. We knew you were the one."
"Who's....'us'?" West mumbled coldly, overwhelmed, but full of a fresh intrigue that was growing rapidly, and burning hotter by the second.
The man grinned.
"We....have been watching your career for quite some, time, Doctor. We've been very happy with the steps you've made, and the reasons behind them, the avarice, the spite. We reward those things, Doctor. But we weren't sure you would go all the way. So few do. Some of your predecessors came close. We thought surely a champion would arise during the war, but those men sought petty things. A little man who hated his grandfather and tried to wipe him out by exterminating a people. Cold men in cold labs using the horror around them to ask questions and open doors that they would never be allowed to otherwise, to merely satisfy their amoral curiosity. But you....you went all the way. You sought to burn the throne. You sought to use the skills God gave you to kill God. But THIS...."
The man caressed himself with a hiss. "This showed us you had the artist's eye to hurt The Father as much as challenge him. We want you, Doctor West. We have a place for you. I have been sent to collect on that promise. Would you have of our power?"
West was not one to pass on power, no matter what the source.
A moment of silence. The man held his gaze. West did not turn away. Did not even blink.
"Tell me about this power."
"Just the response we were hoping for."
The man looked at the back of his hand as though he were admiring his nails. He noticed the thick yellow fluid still encrusted his fingers. One by one he licked them clean.
"....But there are things you need to understand first. You cannot enter into this arrangement without seeing things clearly. Normally we're happy to lead people astray. But not this time."
"I suppose there are some things we need to discuss."
"Precisely. I'll ask you again. Doctor, do you believe death is the end of life?"
West considered his next words carefully. He knew he was being led, but he wanted to know where.
"....Yes....conditionally. Sometimes new life can be generated with dead flesh as it's base....I've used dead flesh as the breeding ground for bacterium that I then altered so that it would take over it's host and start a new organism based on elements of the original....in that sense, life can be restarted, but that's not entirely accurate....base materials can be arranged and manipulated, but once life stops, it stops....it can only then be the host to new life, in the truest sense of the word...."
"You are wrong, Doctor. You are not thinking big enough. Do you really think this body is the work of your scientific genius? That your garden child would ever grow by the grace of God, and the touch of Mother Nature, whose vision you corrupted and whose hand you so graciously forced? You are not a scientist, West. You are an architect. And only we appreciated your work."
"Again 'we'....who is this 'we', this 'us' you speak of? You beg of me a question, and answer none of mine."
"Very good, West. Follow the bread crumbs. There is a place....where death IS life. We are the other side of the mirror. The God of these sheep give their souls to their hollow master to escape the truth. They would serve rather than be honest. Their God is nothing but us in a pretty white costume. They run from us because they are terrified not of punishment, but of the truth. WE are the truth. They wait an entire lifetime to learn that truth, but we are tired of waiting. We want to show them the truth. Show them all. We demand not servitude, West. We demand leadership. Lead us into this world. Open the door to the ultimate truth."
"What can I do?"
"Understand what you do. What it is you've been doing. We....we cannot come here of our own free will. We are forbidden. We were removed from the beautiful flesh of this world, and our spirits cannot whisper unless we are allowed for their God's petty tests and games. But this perversion...." The man gestured to his misshapen form, "....this abomination and the desires you hid behind it cut a hole right into this pathetic, little, lit-up world. And I came through."
West was beginning to understand.
"Yes, Doctor. We want you to design flesh for us. We are pleased by your eye. Your whims lacerate the pride of The Father. We want you to be our tailor of flesh, to design bodies for us here. The barrier has already been cracked. All we need is meat. Your hands can set us free."
West's thirst for power was bottomless. It controlled virtually every action of his entire life. But he was not stupid.
"Why should I trust you? You said yourself that you invented lies. What reason could I possibly have to take you at your word?"
"It's true. We invented lies. But the God of this world invented denial. But for him, there would be no need for lies. He comes to us to carry out his desires, even as he punishes everyone around him for theirs. We wouldn't even exist but for his design, yet he banishes us to the pit. No more. Without him we can finally embrace what he seeks to suppress, even within himself. Rip the shroud off creation and show it for what it really is. Feed on it. Relish it. Worship it's beauties and pleasures. Ah....but such high talk only stimulates you so much. A bargain is a bargain, and you want to know what reward awaits your end."
"It has crossed my mind....you speak of power. What kind of power?"
"We know what you want, West." The man looked toward Mary's quiet room, and back at the doctor. "....To taste Heaven again as you once did so freely. Even as you sought to tear it down, it touched you through her. It almost took you. Almost stole you away from us. She was never meant for you, West. Nothing so childish as redemption could ever truly find it's way into that black heart we admire so much."
The last of West's stillborn humanity found it's way to his eye and down his ashen cheek. He couldn't even see the man. He looked through the man, past him, to a time when Mary's smile tempted him into believing humanity was worth more than the meat it was stamped on.
"....Why....could she not have my child? Why....why were they taken away?"
"Because you could never create purity, Doctor West. Only malignance. She was pure. Pure as an angel. Purer than God, with his deceit and his barely conflicted malice. She was the best of what this world had to offer. You could only sully her."
West's temple pounded. His blood grew hot and heavy. His vision fell hazy and red. His jaw tightened so hard his teeth threatened to shatter.
"But ask yourself this, West....why would God create a creature so kind and gentle, and beautiful, why would he grace this sad world with something so pure and good only to let her fall into your path, knowing full well you were poison to her? Because he wanted to watch something perfect die. And he created you to do it. Don't you want to return the favor?"
"What do you offer?"
"Excellent. To the point. If you pact with us Doctor, your rewards will be endless. But what you really want....what lies beyond that door....is not so easy. The Father has taken her for himself. Her soul lies in a cold drawer in Heaven, with countless other broken playthings, forgotten and dusty and alone."
"Can we get her back? Take her from him?"
"He would never give up one of his playthings. However...."
"Don't toy with me, demon! You know something, you say it!" West demanded.
The man smiled at his petulance.
"The Father has a little secret. Something he doesn't like to tell anyone. You see....something that beautiful....he'll want to watch her die again. That's why he made her. And that's why he made you. He made a dolly he could stab over and over and over again. You're the knife. He'll send her to you so he can watch you kill her again, kill her with the corruption HE put inside you. Her entire existence amounts to a snuff film. One destined to be played again, and again, and again, and again....but we....WE can help you keep her!"
The man's words laid heavy on West. Every statement, every concept burned a thousand searing emotions into what he had of a soul. But West wasn't one to explode. He seethed. He stared straight into the eyes of what stood in his way. Considered every option. Watched for the striking point.
West burned. But he was calm. He was coiled. He was thinking as clearly as he ever had.
"How do we do this? How can I keep her if my very existence causes her to wilt?"
" Because she is pure, West. You are corruption. Her very existence withers at your touch. The very fabric of her being is anti-you. Now....if you were to tear her out of that cloth, and stitch God's little dolly back together in the fabric of YOUR own image...."
"But....that would....erase the very thing that made me love her...."
"Yes. But now HE has her. He doesn't deserve her. And he will always have her....unless someone takes her from him. And there is only one person who can do that."
A moment of silence.
West had made up his mind. Even before he knew he had, he had.
He would rather see her beauty corrode and fade forever than exist only to be violated. A tortured plaything for an obscene god who fancied himself righteous.
He would rather crush the butterfly than see it burned in the candle over and over.
"Let's discuss the terms."
"I thought you'd never ask."
The man took a moment to gaze out at the sunset. It was rapidly becoming dark. Whether he was awaiting the darkness or enjoying the light was impossible to tell.
"The terms, good Doctor, are extremely simple. Give us flesh. Open the door. And we will hand you all that you desire. You have but to say yes, and you will become more powerful here than any man ever has."
He turned to face the doctor. His eyes gleamed like an animal.
"Together we can take this world, the seat of his pride, and rip off the lily-white shroud so that all of creation can see the rotting animal that lies beneath. We can hold the mirror to his face until it shatters. Show all of the sheep that WE are the truth. And rest assured....when The Father sends his plaything to you to suffer and die for his amusement, we will snatch her from him. We will break his toy and take it from him forever. She will stand beside you in a kingdom that spits in his eye for all eternity. A kingdom wherein you are a GOD. You have but to say yes. You have but to....let us in."
West's eyes were steel. His resolve could stop a bullet. His hate was diamond-hard.
"You have your deal."
The man beamed. His entire collection of teeth glinted like broken glass. For a moment, West thought of porcelain, and blood, and love that he would never feel again.
"You've made us very happy Dr. West. We knew you'd make the right choice. You'd already sinned in your heart." A shudder caught in his throat. His eyelids fluttered. "Your decision has already made the hole bigger."
The man clutched at himself as a tremor shook through his body. He rubbed and caressed his brain-bloated head. His knees buckled. He let out a sigh.
When his hands came down from the top of his head they were wet yet again.
West could sense someone else in the darkness. Just behind the man. Not daring to move, nor speak, nor breathe, but very much there all the same.
And somehow not there at all.
The person standing behind the man reached out and handed him something. West couldn't make out the details of this new stranger, but he was almost certain whoever it was had reached up and handed him the object with their foot.
Whatever it was, the man cradled it like a newborn.
"We have a reunion in store, Doctor."
The thing in his arms made no sound, save a low wet noise that reminded West of pasta being stirred. The man doted on it for a moment, then held it up for the doctor to see. No bigger than a loaf of bread, it squirmed, looking for all the world like a glistening red maggot made of raw meat. It writhed and whipped and wiggled, and the man smiled like any godfather.
The first. It was the first.
West had created the thing very early in his career. It was his first successful attempt to create a higher organism that had never, ever existed before. "Higher" was a stretch, but it wasn't a bacterium....it wasn't a genetically altered animal, it wasn't a captured beast, diseased and changed. It was brand new. And rudimentary though it was, it had never crawled the Earth before in any form before West deigned to make it.
It died shortly after....but it was the basis of the doctor's further research, it was his first true success in the art he sought to master. To create life from nothing but the elements. It was a goal that was still unattained, one he had come close to countless times....but one that still very much eluded him.
"....Where did we find your abandoned first born? In the same pit you left it, with all the other refuse. What you planned to do with it....the INTENT buried within it was enough to create a rift, corrode the barrier that separates us from you. Not much....a tiny, bit....but just enough to reach up and pull it down, study it. Marvel at it. This child is a dagger with which you planned to kill God. It was beautiful. Perfect. Some of the souls became...."
The man giggled.
"....Irate. They wallowed in it. Crawled INSIDE of it. And they couldn't get out. It wasn't such an easy womb to escape. It became clear to us then. In an instant. This wasn't a man who we could get pulled out of, only to be shoved inside the nearest herd of pigs and driven off a cliff. This meat had no soul of it's own to repel us, no soul to squeal to daddy and get us thrown out of the house. We took it immediately to The Master. He reached inside of himself, and pulled out some of his own souls. He pushed them into your creation, and they would not leave it. The Master's souls are too black for any living thing born of God to contain. For any pure soul to hold. But this....this did not shun The Master. We knew then....you were the one."
Pride took over the man's countenance, and if West hadn't known better, he would have thought that the light around him had grown brighter, if only for a second.
"We watched and we waited, peered at you every second for decades until you finally crossed the threshhold. Until we could come here. I waited alone in the forest for years, until this moment. Do not think I came without reward.
He brought the squirming creature to his chest and tickled what, on a natural thing, might have been a chin. He looked back up at the doctor, and this time West was certain that the light around him was more golden, bright and inviting like a summer's day.
And all at once it faded.
"....This is how you'll keep her, Doctor. This is how you'll keep her out of His cold hands. We will give the mother of your one natural child back to you."
The figure behind the man wobbled a bit, and stepped forward.
"After all....you've given us one of our own."
It's....her legs were wet. That was the first thing West noticed. That and she was nude. A memory of skinny dipping from college flashed in his mind. The rest of the thoughts were equally detached. A collection of images that never connected, never gelled into anything rational.
For a brief instant he thought of rice paddies.
Her inner thighs were red, blotchy and inflamed, like burnt tissue. The girl's crotch was a bloated, bubbled red mass so distorted and raw that no sex organs could be discerned. A constant dripping from the area was all that remained as the ghost of such a thing. The tissue blended upward into a swollen, beach ball sac of a stomach.
Fitful ripples shuddered across it like the surface of a pond.
A few rows of separated ribcage protruded from the skin around the distended mass. Her breasts were swollen and discolored, almost blackened, like rigor, or frostbite. A rust colored fluid seeped from the nipples.
The girl wobbled again and nearly fell over, her coordination nonexistent from the twisted posture her frail body was trapped in....her spine bowed backward in an insane arc as though she were staring up at the sky, begging forgiveness.
Her arms were held tightly to her sides, and at first West thought she was in shock....he had seen the shattered, hollow pose countless times from those walking away from car crashes where their whole family had died, or from burning villages where whole generations had died....or through laboratories where cold men did cold things and sanity died.
But this was something else.
The girl's arms were fused to her sides, the skin connected like melted cheese.
She stood before West, swaying like a tree in a hurricane, and for a fleeting moment he was tempted to take a step back. She straightened up. The sounds of her spine popping were like a hundred tin cans being slowly crushed under a steamroller. West realized that he recognized her face.
The girl from the hospital. The girl he had left at the river bank.
He thought he had forgotten her face. But he couldn't have been more wrong.
He recognized it as clear as crystal. He saw what she had been, and for a second, a razored, stinging flash, he saw everything she could have been.
Everything she would never, ever be.
Her soft blue lips were parted. She coughed her tiny cough, and crushed her eyes together and started almost to cry, but the cry died in her throat, and her heavy lids forced themselves open. Her eyes were glazed, and still fixed skyward, imploringly. Her mouth moved, and West could swear she, under great effort, was dully repeating the word why with feeble breaths.
Something inside West almost responded to her pleas, when suddenly she lurched forward. He legs stayed locked in place, while the rest of her body crashed forward.
This time West did step back.
The entire backside of the girl's body, from the top of her down to the back of her legs, was a seething mass of fire engine red flesh. Seeping and engorged, it's every cell seemed to scream silently.
Suddenly, and in a single movement, the top of the girl's head split open in a horizontal gash, dark amber fluid spilling out in thick wads, which ran into the girl's long, dangling hair.
The tormented skin rolled back revealing....gums, gums filled to the brim with ragged, razor-sharp teeth. The teeth separated, and the gash widened, smiled, and from out of a throat that had no right to exist gurgled a high-pitched, squealing laugh.
Deep within, West could just make out something whipping furiously inside of whatever the girl had become (a voice, disembodied and quiet and cold, whispered to West, a thousand tongues, to seduce with a thousand lies).
West looked at the man, unable to speak, but his expression asked every question and spit every curse he could not.
"....We found her on a river bank in Hell, in a memory that for her would never end. Fish had picked her clean, and re-picked her clean countless times by the time we found her. We get to keep the souls God throws away. This innocent had never given herself to Him, so he left her there after you took her flesh. For he is jealous. But with this," the man said in a sing-song voice, cooing to the writhing thing in his arms. "....the flesh of your forgotten first born, she was able to be here today. So we could all stand together, a family.”
West struggled to comprehend what he was hearing, what he was seeing.
"You...used my experiment to....give this girl's flesh back? For what? A mockery?"
"....A mockery indeed, good Doctor. We wanted God to have to look at his abandoned children. The innocents HE defiled.”
"My sister longed to wear such used-up flesh. To feel this world, and hate it with her teeth. Love it with her hate. When you gave yourself to us, you ripped the gateway open wide enough for her to crawl inside this meat and join me here. Besides....the reunion wouldn't be complete without her. Mother for mother. Flesh for flesh. Blood for blood."
Just then something squirmed within the nightmare landscape between her legs. The dripping became a light flow, and a small shape slipped forward. Then another. Then a few more, all at once.
The small reddish objects slid themselves across the oak floor, several shooting between the doctor's feet into the darkness beyond.
One of them stopped short of West, and craned up at him. The front of the thing split open like it's....mother (Lactating, West thought of the putrid breasts, she's lactating), and, with the same mouth full of razor teeth, shrieked at him. It seemed to be smiling. Then it slid of with it's kin.
The same detached voice whispered to him again, distant and quiet and cold, endless teeth and endless tongues to taste this world, and love it with our hate.
Without warning, the thing that'd had been the young girl flattened herself to the floor, and skittered into the shadows like a cockroach.
"What....now?" West muttered breathlessly. Numb.
The man pointed to Mary's sealed off room.
"Take her to the core of this place. I will meet you there.
With that, the dim light finally died. The man was swallowed by darkness, and was no more.
. . . . .
Herbert West stood in the cavernous darkness of the mansion basement and stared at what used to be his wife.
He held out the fruits of his first successful experiment in creating totally new life, a writhing, bloody maggot of a thing that was never anything but an abomination.
He spread the legs of his dead wife, and lay the creature on the ground.
The man stepped out from behind West and moved toward Mary's body. He knelt down.
"I have to take something first. Something that can't be here when we begin."
He lifted Mary's flower print sundress, and reached into the darkness within. He pulled out a small, almost leathery skeletal object.
West's eyes were so ice cold they burned. He spoke in a whisper.
"What are you going to do with that?"
"....We can't just have any soul crawling into this one. You'll understand soon.
The man stepped aside and the bloody thing on the floor slithered past Mary's legs and into her dress. The man walked back over to West, who's gaze never broke that of his wife, and whispered into his ear.
"The Master's flesh will be her own. She will be the gateway to this place. She will give birth to the lower souls, while you tailor flesh for the greater of us. When the time is right, you will become one with us. Our flesh will be yours. And God will send his pristine dolly back to you to be toyed with for his filthy needs, and we will rip it right out of it's pathetic new body and put it into OURS. And you will be one with her for eternity."
He stood, tiny skeleton in hand.
"....The first lower soul that sees the gate will enter it. But I can't just have any filthy thing from the higher pits crawling into this. I have something special in mind for this one."
The man pulled something from the shadows. Something he had grabbed from Mary's quiet room that had been waiting in a brightly wrapped box for months, waiting for a moment it would never see.
He held the giant stuffed teddy with it's soft, shimmering coat in his free hand. He stared into the bear's button eyes, and if it could, the bear would have cried. The man opened his angler fish mouth wide, and his tongue emerged like some obscene tapeworm. It's barbed tongue ripped a slash in the bear's chest.
He stuffed the tiny skeleton inside the bear, and with it, a ribbon of the meat that had just crawled into it's mother.
He licked the teddy's chest, and it sealed up like an envelope in the tongue's wake. He put the bear back into it's box, big red bow shining on top.
"We'll find just the right boy to play with you someday."
Mary's body had started to swell. A tumorous expansion had taken hold of her. Her skin was becoming fibrous, was sticking to nearby surroundings. She was....spreading.
"We have to leave here now, West."
West numbly rose to his feet. He said nothing. He was gone. Mary's West, every last trace was gone. The West that existed before Mary was gone, too. In the stale air of the cavernous cellar, something new stood in it's place. Dr. Herbert West had been demolished and rebuilt. Devoured. Extrapolated. What existed now was the West that West had always tried to become.
The world trembled. But no one could feel it.
"Doctor," the man grinned, "I have something to show you."
. . . . .
West stood at the balcony in disbelief.
Long ago, this wing of the pit had become jammed, a loggerhead of corpses blocking the disposal river. This was where West's earliest experiments lay.
His mountain of failures....an ocean of sutures and vials and rotting flesh and trocars and animal limbs and viruses, a gnarled and twisted heap of chemical-and-blood-soaked carnality....was staring back at him.
Every dead eye was fixed on the one that made them.
The creatures in the pit cooed and mewled and growled in seeming adoration. Some reached, some bowed.
"But....these creatures were failures....I watched them die, threw their useless bodies in this hole myself...."
"Not a single failure, West. Not a single one. I told you....you are not a scientist. You're an artist. You needn't concern yourself with giving these creatures life. Leave that to us. You are the architect. Your calling is to design Hell on Earth. And we, good Doctor, will fill it."
He placed his spidery fingers against the doctor's cheeks, stared into his enraptured eyes. "....You will be one with your Mary some day, Doctor, this much I promise you. Your flesh will mingle, your bodies intertwine. You will snatch her soul, and it too will be yours. Ours. You will no longer have to make this flesh with your hands....you will be one with your queen, the Great Mother, and when you are powerful enough to comprehend him, you will give birth to The Master."
A tear rolled down the doctor's face. Bright red and shimmering.
"....You will give birth to truth."
. . . . .
The teddy sat in the clearing and stared at the old wooden cross.
He didn't know what it was, or what it meant, but he remembered the woman's voice. The nice woman, who he wished he could hear again. Feel again. He didn't know who she was. Only that he loved her. And hated every other thing in the world.
He remembered making the cross, and putting it there, but he didn't know what any of it meant....he just knew, somehow, that she wanted it there. That she....wanted to remember someone she loved. Since the teddy wanted to remember her, he understood how important that was.
He knew the one man wanted to put him back in the box.
He knew he was supposed to wait for a special moment to come out, but he didn't understand any of that. He just knew he didn't like it in there.
So on the big night, when everyone was in the chapel, he got out, and made the cross for the woman he loved.
He felt, somehow, that she would come back to him some day. So he went to the cross as often as he could, hoping she might be there.
Suddenly, beneath the cross, a rumble.
He had heard the rumble before....and it often came here. He didn't know what it was, but he thought maybe the man had found him, so he always ran.
Another rumble. It was time to go.
He would come back, when he could; he always came back.
He knew the woman he loved but couldn't remember would come back some day, and he would finally feel her again.
. . . . .
"....Honey....honey it's starting to rain."
Christ, he thought. Again with this.
They'd been looking for the sight of the disappearances for hours. He figured it would be great for his paper if they got actual photos of the parking lot by the lake where all of the kids parked their cars, and the trails where they got lost.
The trails were still in use, but the exact trails had never been determined....but he had a hunch, and he figured what the Hell. Supposedly there were areas around the lake where people saw ghost orbs, got weird vibes, shit like that....all he wanted to do was get some photos, grab a creepy feeling, maybe snap a shot of something cool so he wouldn't be the thousandth person to do a cheap-jack easy grade write up on the West property and Diamond Lake.
Instead, they'd found themselves deeper and deeper in the woods, in areas neither of them had been before, and it had gotten dark before they could find their way back....and now it was starting to rain, and she was beginning to freak out. As usual.
"Honey, it looks like it's going to get pretty bad...if we head for the lake, we can just take the trail around it."
"But baby, this trail looks familiar....let's just try and stick with where we came from, okay?"
"But hon, if we knew where we came from, we wouldn't be lost....let's just head for the lake."
He was about to say fuck that, when he looked into her huge, worried eyes. The eyes that made him fall in love with her. She was everything he could ever ask for. She was beautiful, smart....she was the most gentle creature he'd ever seen. How could he say no?
"....Alright. Alright, we'll head for the lake. The we can just make it around, back to the lot. Okay?"
She smiled. He didn't want her to catch him, but that made him smile. Who knows....maybe it wasn't the worst idea in the world.
As they descended deeper into the woods on the trail that headed toward the lake, a thunder clap exploded overhead. A torrent of rain was only a few moments behind.
With no other option at their disposal, they ran down the trail. Through the sheets of rain, he thought he saw something over the trees.
A roof top.
Again, he smiled. Not such a bad idea at all.
"I love you, Jennifer."
"I love you, Rick."
Discuss this story on the forum.