I ain’t never smelled nothin so terrible as I did comin from that cave entrance, and I was once stuck in the lower region of an outhouse for the better half of a month. Got my meals thrown down at me, and I was down there with my hands tied. I tried not carin, hopin for days I’d get myself out, but after a time a man’s stomach can only wait so long. I tried catchin the tossed down stuff in my mouth, but it was dark, couldn’t see much down there, and after failing too many times, I scrounged.
In the muck.
In the dark.
I guess it’s what I got for…wait a sec…what was I talking about? Oh right, the cave. Sorry bout that.
The devil weed tapered off the closer I got to the cave’s entrance. Tapered off and replaced by what I could only assume was leftovers, bones, old meat, and…well, other wastes. I didn’a need to imagine what the sicko that done the kidnapping had done with the kidnapped. With no life out here, a feller musta gotten a fair bit famished.
I stepped over the stuff best I could, figured I’d buy myself a new set of boots when I finished all of this up. Had a fair jingle still in my satchel, hell, I might even spring for a second pair just in case, you know, this sort of thing happens again. One can never tell, specially in my line of work. The Slooth demon alone…sorry, off course again. Back to it now.
To my left came the faint glow of a flickerin light; down the small corridor, and to the right. I took my time making my way, tryn’a keep my footsteps to a dull roar. It was a small tight area, even the smallest noise carried a depthly echo around the spot. But soon enough I was just around the corner, and I could peak into the opening where the dancing firelight was comin from.
I was ready for a man, fatted up on the people’s he’d kidnapped. Maybe a Gor demon, the kind that took kids and used them as soup bowls as they ate their innards. I was ready for anything. Expected blood everywhere. Expected severed limbs, maybe a torso on a kabob being turned over a fire. I expected somethin, and that was my first real mistake.
Hanging from the ceiling of the cave, a long cable wire strung up in circular way, were the stripped bodies of all the kidnapped youngns. They was all set up just in front of me, sort of like a curtain of em. Each had been scooped of it’s innards, a small candle hung up inside em on a saucer dangling from the ceiling and showing through their thin skins.
Now here’s the thing about skin, it’s fragile, like silk sometimes, not the easiest thing ta rip offa some corpse. Whoever done this must’a been skilled. I glanced at the ones closest to me: no sutures, no tears, looked immaculate for torn off skin and such.
I thought about what coulda done such a thing; leper in needa some new replacements, maybe a full family of em, or perhaps a werewolf with a need ta play with its interior decoratin side, but neither of em really seemed a kind ta take the time to peel off everything just below the face to get at the body whole and hang it up just like a dapper feller would a nicer suit.
Fleshler. It’s been called a demon for years, but the putrid thing is more just a monster than anything else. A coy creature, stealin skins of folk in order to get his prey. It stalks it’s prey, sets up residence just outside of towns, makes a number of killings before the hibernatin season. Goes into town at nights, lookin like lovers, fathers, sons, daughters, whatever really. Just slips the skins on, prances around town until it finds someone they can lure out to it’s lair, kill it, eat it’s innards, and keep the skins for later. Sort of a sick one, but easy enough to kill. Specially seein as how it only takes a single bullet to it’s skull, and I had a handful at the moment. The odds was on my side. Except of course for one small problem. My second mistake.
I heard foot steps, slow, hobbling on one leg more than the other. Heavy steps, echoing in the corridor past me and the skins. I steadied my pistol, best I could anyway, nerves and such being a mighty bitch along with the pale lighting. And then it walked into the opening, the frail light dancing on it’s face. It weren’t no Fleshler, it was just a man, fat old codger of one, but only a man.
Our eyes met, my pistol still pointing towards his face which had just started to smile a sickly grin as his eyes widened. I didn’a like it when they smiled like that, gave me a freakish shiver in my chest area. Now, I would’a just pulled my trigger, done the work and moved on, but now I had some fair questions that needed answerin. If it weren’t no monster or demon, I hadn’t a clue what sort of vile thing a human could want from something like this.
“Abacus, Jones?” He sputtered through his rotting teeth.
“Aye, chub…Reckon I am as such. But as I’m the one with the pistol, and a handful of bullets, I think you’d better tell me how you know my name?”
“Soulless Cowboy, the one with the demon’s eyes, the dark eyes, the Dark Rider…you are known. And you’ve finally come.”
I could see the codger getting all giddy, nearly jumpin out of himself, but I still didn’a have a clue why.
“Start explainin,” I cock my gun and move through the curtain of bodies “or I’ll get my own answers.”
“Ah, but you are the one here for the answers.”
“Isn’t that what ah jest said?”
“No, no, you misunderstand. You are here to give answers.”
I check my hand again, confused, but making sure it’s me that still has the pistol in his hand. It is.
“Codger? I’m the one with the gun here. You ain’t blind is you? I mean, that would explain our misunderstandin as such.”
“Your gun is pointless. And no, I am not blind. Do you think anyone could do such magnificent work as I have with this if I were dumbed in the eyes?”
“I wouldn’t call this magnificent.”
“But you will, Dark Rider, you will very soon.”
He started laughin, slight, but creepin me out nonetheless. I watched as he stepped aside, continuing on with his work as he hung up another suit, and then lowered a candle inside it. The flame took a second or so to adjust to it’s new surrounding, but it kicked up just like a stove, lit brighter than it should.
“The flame, they starve, and they grow brighter. You see, the pores, yes, they act as a vacuum, sucking in little streams of air, but it sucks so much that the flame is oversaturated, it grows brighter, higher, and fuller.”
“I don’t want a damn school lesson. I want answers. Now!”
“Fine, fine, I’ve finished now anyway. This was the last one. It was exceptionally more difficult than the others. Getting the insides out. The skin has to be thin you see, or else it wouldn’t work.”
“What? What the devil are you up about?”
“Just look.” He pointed towards the area between two bodies. “See for yourself.”
I took a step forward, motioning my gun for him to move away as I did so. He complied, and I took up the position where he had been pointing. I saw it. Sick as it was, I saw exactly what this was all for.
“You see it don’t you? Of course you do, it was said the one with the demon’s eyes would be able to. And now that you’re here, the wait can finally be over.”
I wanted to speak, to say no, to say I didn’t understand. But I did. A part of me knew, but I just didn’t want it to. The light showing through the skin, it was a map; perfectly aligned, with demon’s script alight all throughout. And here at the end of the map, I could read the foul text:
Here in the tangled trees and torn Earth, lies the resting place of the Eeyeun fo Tr’kielst.
Translation: The Goddamned Right Hand of the Devil.