The cruelty of his small
was captured and shivering on the sticky web of the dream. Holes in the endless
tumbled buildings and eroded faces in the concrete revealed a mood of agony and
loss. He heard something snarl then the grind of teeth became the squeal of
radials spinning through greenish wisps of smog.
He saw his wife again -- Janice was dead, gray and
splashed with a violet shading of wine, blood and bruise. A derelict factory
loomed over her like a squat giant. Up in the gloom he saw the city itself, what
it had become … a soulless monstrosity made of the smoke and thunder of
tarnished commerce … a bone-grinder shaking mechanisms, devouring purposeless
A wall was blocking him; a wall had always blocked
him. It was stone, brick, cement and all the metal of derailed trains and
freeway wrecks. Severed limbs crowned the rubbish heaps at its base. Tar and
blood bubbled in the cracks. It made him think of every shallow thug he'd ever
been up against, all of the nasty bosses who'd fired him, and every bastard
who'd ever insulted and underrated him. It was nearly everyone. Their faces
flashed - warped and ugly as fresh skin grafts. They were the stopper, they'd
beat him down, turned him into a broken man. There was nothing left and he
thought that maybe his wife had been right in riding out of it on the bottle.
Wind gusted, and he was a giant, carrying all of
the rage and hate of mankind as fury against the wall. Blood ran and flesh tore
as he hammered at it with his fists, but it didn't come down. It couldn't come
down when it was already fallen. All it could do was boom and amplify the misery
like a hollow drum.
Jeff awoke on the spit
remembered getting smashed and walking out of the city. The spit wasn't much
better than the alleyways he'd been sleeping in -- it was a big hook of land
made from garbage and fill and it stretched out into the lake. It had its share
of stunted trees, wildlife and mutant grass. It also had ground water so
poisonous it would eat your flesh like battery acid.
Waking was nearly as bad as dreaming. He was in a
hobo roost and it was early morning, the sun sailing up high and rust-tinted in
the trailing greenhouse exhaust of the nearby city. A number of bums were
passed-out in the dirt and cardboard around him. On one side, there were shabby
huts of crate-board, corrugated tin and cardboard. Thorn bushes and stunted
trees were to his left and gulls squawked directly overhead. Across from him was
a pond of industrial waste. In the distance sailboats drifted on milky Lake
Licks of sulfur and filaments of silver spun among
green bubbles and strands of foul brown smoke. As he tried to settle his
swimming head, he unwittingly focused on a blob of dark mud floating to shore.
He was sure his life was over. He wasn't physically finished like the bums
around him but he was fast on his way. The binges were getting worse, and he had
little to live for anyway. He'd no property left and a tax debt compounding to
mind-boggling numbers. His wife was buried, and his daughter was a hooker … his
son armed and dangerous on those rare days when he got out. For Jeff the bottle
of life was empty. Now it was time to choke on the dregs at the bottom, and to
be better than the rest. If you knew you were dead, killed by fate, you were
better than the others who were too blind to know.
On the shore, the lump of
began to crawl like a worm and Jeff's negative thoughts vanished as he studied
it. Sometimes it shimmered like a bluebottle fly, and at other moments it was
slime green. It had a way of sliding forward that was quicksilver smooth and it
moved right up to the closest wino - a guy with a sherry face of popped veins -
formed a gross sucker at its front and glued itself to the man's forehead.
For a second Jeff was sure he'd become a
hallucinating wet brain already, but when the worm oozed in the man's ear the
horror of it became the truth. It wasn't long and the bum's eyes opened. They
were lifeless eyes, a dead-as-maggots stare.
The shakes hitting him, Jeff began to rise, but
before he was halfway up a muzzle-flash caught his eye. There was a crack and a
heavy dull thud as the head of the derelict behind him became the leading edge
of a slapping splash of blood and brain matter.
Throwing himself to the side, Jeff rolled and
crawled off through Frisbee-sized mushrooms. Crushed cans, rotted canvass and
heaps of cigarette butts marked the edge of some thorn bushes, and while he was
screened by them a couple more shots thundered into the roost.
Reaching a mound of iron ore pellets, Jeff moved
out of the brush and tried to spot the gunman. A small dump was beyond the mound
and the killer was on the far side of it, reloading in a patch of crabgrass. He
was blond, Nordic, a bodybuilder wearing brown slacks and a checked hunting
jacket. From his angle he wouldn't have seen the pond worm in the man's ear, and
it was some of the others he'd shot. That meant he was a pure killer, an
off-duty cop or a vagrant-hater out shooting bums on the spit for Saturday
morning sport; maybe even a Neo-Nazi out for practice.
Jeff felt anger convulse, close like a claw in his
stomach. The killer took a new form. He became the embodiment of everything Jeff
hated -- the lucky sophisticated guy who had nothing better to do than
exterminate the unfortunate. A new breed of man that had emerged a few years
back, when kicking the downtrodden became politically popular. Jeff swore under
his breath. He intended to get even. It would be a final strike at the authority
he'd always hated. It was the one thing he had left -- his belief that all
authority, every man, every system had to be challenged. If the enemy had taken
shape as a killer, then maybe it was because it had killed his life already.
Moving from behind the ore heap, Jeff dashed
through the dump, dodging decaying furniture, rusted drums and spikes of broken
glass and metal. He got halfway across before a huge spring caught his foot and
threw him into the rusted-out hulk of a pickup truck.
Hearing Jeff fall the gunman spun around and
fired. The slug hit the wreck with the wham of a heavy metal fist and opened up
the hood like it was the lid of a sardine can.
Jeff kept moving, ducking behind wet heaps of
cardboard and newspaper, continuing his advance on the gunman. Two slugs pounded
at his heels then he saw the gunman move to reload. Favoring his weak leg, Jeff
rushed into some bushes, finding cover before the gunman could trigger again.
Rays from the swollen sun glossed the sweat on the
gunman's brow. His expression was intense and he seemed about to lose his cool.
It was obvious that he hadn't expected one of the bums to fight a war with him.
He shuffled around nervously in the crab grass, looking for his target.
Jeff had taken note that his weapon was a
three-shooter, and he began by tossing an empty Five Star sherry bottle. The
gunman fired and shattered it where it landed, and then he scratched his head
and moved over into the dump.
Positions were now reversed, with the gunman
behind a mound of crushed bricks and Jeff near the patch of grass. It was time
to take a risk; Jeff emerged from the bushes and dived at the edge of the grass,
getting behind a weedy mound as a slug kicked up sod.
Risking it again, Jeff popped his head out. A slug
whistled by and sawed a limb off a dead maple. And that was the three. He'd have
to load another clip.
Litter, wind and dust were flying in every
alleyway, down the hard years of Jeff's life. His teeth and jaws were locked
bands of iron. Limping, beaten man that he was he pulled up strength from
discarded dreams, crumpled steel and rust. Jeff was a gaunt man, a half-crippled
man, his face was scarred and creased and dark with stubble. But it was the eyes
that told his story; they weren't wino dead -- they were white embers, hot with
fire from a life too terrible to think about.
It was too late to shoot, so the gunman tried to
bash Jeff down with the barrel, and he found it was too late for that too. Jeff
ploughed into him like a train, thrusting rusted metal into his belly. It
penetrated like the jagged fender of a wreck, then a hot river poured between
his legs and flame was in his eyes as his intestines spilled out on the spit.
Jeff picked up the gun,
finding it to be
a TAR-HUNT Slug Rifle. Only a monster would hunt with such a weapon. It was like
killing ants with boulders. Yet it was loaded and Jeff figured he might need the
three shots. He was going back for the poor guy with the worm eating his brain,
to put him out of his misery.
There was little to contemplate other than the
screech of gulls and the birthmark-colored clouds slipping over the sun. He was
thirsty and he knew there was no clean water on the spit. He would have to find
a bottle. Then, as he came off the earth path leading to the roost, he forgot
Three men had been decapitated by the TAR-HUNT
slugs and the corpses were mounds of raw flesh, crawling with ants and
horseflies. The premature carrion stink was so vile that the roost was
impossible to enter. The other derelicts had fled, four or five of them, and the
guy with the pond worm in his brain was also gone.
Scouting for them he doubled around to the far
side of the makeshift huts. Fat drops of blood led up to the ramshackle
construction. A huge peeling Pepsi sign served as a door. It had once been
electric, now it shone with blood traces.
Jeff's hunter instinct made him hesitate. He
picked up a stone and heaved it at the side of the hut. There was shuffling on
cardboard and a moan of pain inside.
The door began to creak open. Something felt
wrong, so Jeff raised his weapon. A man came out slowly. He was dragging his
feet, his arms hung limp and his entire body was alive with bloodsucking worms.
Only his mouth was clear and it poured with blood and moaning.
As the door blew shut, Jeff squeezed the trigger,
the kick of the gun hitting him like a horse hoof. He saw the man's middle
disappear in a whirlpool of violet as he was thrown against the Pepsi sign. It
crumpled easy as tinfoil and the wall fell apart, a spray of gore and worms
shooting in to coat the interior.
Gray light washed in and Jeff saw the other
bodies, all of them crawling with worms, except the original one. And he only
knew it by the shoes because the body was now wrapped in a milky web.
Shooting would be pointless. Fire was a better
idea. He fumbled for his lighter, and as the silver flashed from his pocket, the
webbing on the man's head began to split.
A green-purple tentacle waggled out. Blister-like
suckers lined its underside. It got a hold on the wall and pushed out two more
tentacles, and then it pulled itself the rest of the way out. Chunks of skull
fell away and hung on hinges of webbing as it oozed up the wall. There were six
tentacles in all, the man's brain made the body. It pulsed with several colors
of ghastly liquid and had knobs of varicose veins at the bases of the tentacles.
A huge blister in the center appeared to be a morbid eye.
Jeff's teeth chattered. He decided to shoot, but
when he raised the rifle, he found that he couldn't will his trembling finger to
pull the trigger. Throwing the gun down he went back to the lighter and had the
same problem again when he tried to start a fire.
The brain worm was now moving toward him -- in the
same easy way it'd moved when it had been tiny. Hate was another set of
tentacles emanating from it. Paralyzing hate. Jeff could feel its loathing of
him -- it was a tangible thing, as real as the green wisps of poison over the
place of its birth. It invaded his mind, screaming with a power of murderous
extermination. Blistered tentacles shot like lightning to the roots of his soul.
Razor ribbons of pain twisted in his bowels. Burrowing down the creature found
the umbilicus it needed to sever to end his existence.
And then a dam burst. Another kind of hate -
fire-bright - emerged. Jeff's hate, his loathing of a world that had robbed,
poisoned and deadened him. All of the angry faces flooded up like a grotesque
bubbling of blood; their hunger an inner rain of glass splinters and knives.
Jeff heard the creature scream from the pain of
it. It had been about to put a tentacle on his foot. He kicked it away violently
and watched it retreat to the fallen hut.
Jeff's heart was thumping, its beat strengthened.
The creature had crawled to the bottom of him and he'd refused to die. Just like
that he could refuse to die for everyone else.
Running to the farthest hut he set fire to it with
his lighter and watched as the flames licked up fast. Moving around the huts, he
created a circle of flame that quickly grew to a roaring column of crimson and
soot. And he didn't wait around; he turned and dashed across the spit wasteland,
getting a hundred yards before the screaming of the burning brain worm began.
The sounds were psychic emanations, sharp bone fragments exploding in his head.
He stumbled and began to crawl on the lumpy earth,
and in time, his mind cleared. The city was ahead and it was like another
monster, with tentacles of smog. He could see that it lived out of death, greed,
envy and hate. Yet his own hate was gone, burned to ashes with the brain worm.
Somehow, the creature had saved him, exorcised him, and his thirst for life had
returned. He knew he would go on to a new life. He would still limp but he'd no
longer be crippled by self-pity and hate.
He thought about the worms. If monsters were
growing on the spit, it was probably too late to stop it. Something terrible was
on the way. Yet people had let their own inner monsters thrive and grow, and it
was too late to stop that. The brain worms were something they had earned.
. . .
. . . . . . . .