by Gary L Morton
Reg sipped his fair trade coffee quietly, thinking his bloodshot eyes and stiff muscles to be a comfort compared to the guilt gnawing at his soul. He wanted to have a good opinion of himself, but the only self-image he could entertain was dark -- corpse black-and-blue. Something had rotted inside, either weakness of personality or weakness of the flesh. He wasn't sure what it was; but he knew that the vision of what he'd become was a sluggish nightmare and he would carry on with it.
Beyond the burger joint's steamy window a field of weeds shook with wind and rain. It was rain that never ended and it had dampened his action this summer … like everywhere he went he got mud in his eye as an increasingly smaller pool of potential victims disappeared like fluttering raincoats into the gloom. Most of this stretch of Scarborough was suburban in appearance but this was a dead-end where high-rises and some weeds trespassed over the borderline to grow tall and unwanted. Scarborough was a sort of faceless place of mixed races; people that seemed to blend together into uniform blandness. Reg liked to blend into the scenery in faceless places, like part of their null history. He‘d drift on the streets until he did what he had to do, then he’d disappear into bone-white oblivion, waiting for inner darkness to wake him again.
His favorite oldie floated moodily from the radio, but it wasn't really a good day to think about Scarborough Fair. He got up, dumped his tray and left, banging the door. The wind and slashing rain tore at his hunting outfit. Waves of rain whipped across his dented Ford. His mind was becoming a dismal blank, it always did after a killing; an image of the little boy's battered body in his trunk flashed in his thoughts, then things went blank again.
Bleached white sky illumined the lake as black clouds drifted on the horizon. The narrow gravel road he turned down rested in misty gloom. The road ran along a lonely mostly hidden stretch of the bluffs, and the heavy rains had made the area a sudden swamp. He looked for familiar landmarks in the fields of bland mud, but could find none. The feeling was that this place existed in the bowels of Scarborough and every other windy lakeside city in the world.
With disappointment curling his lips, he stopped by a row of dead oak trees near the edge of the bluffs. Exposed roots gripped the mud like the talons of a griffin. Behind the trees, a pond lay like melted chocolate. The pond's bottom would digest a body well; he decided to dispose of it there and got out.
A warm moist wind blew off the water, but it was an ill wind, like the breath of a zombie. Since the mud was soft, dragging the body would be the easy way. As he did the work he noticed that Lake Ontario was stained and rolling with muck for quite a ways out.
His spade cut into the mud, knifing too deep. He halted for a moment; the body's gory face was causing his breakfast to leap so he took a moment and turned it. The mud was heavy and the hole immediately filled back in when he lifted the shovel, so he decided it would be better to get some rocks and sink the body out under a few inches of water.
“Damn!” he said as he noticed that his rubbers had gone down a couple inches in the mud. Reaching down he held his right rubber as he lifted his foot. The suction power of the ooze made for a loud pop as his foot came out.
Thrown off balance, he nearly fell, and he found himself unable to regain his footing. Suddenly and silently, his whole world began to shake. Looking up he saw the oak tree in front of him tilt and pull a section of earth with it as it began to slide down the bluff. It was a mudslide, and a shift of the mud knocked his feet free. He fell on his butt.
Jabbing his hands into the mud, he used them as an anchor and rode the slide like it was a giant toboggan. As he screamed vile names at the gods, he could see that the slide was headed for a flat span that topped a second steep wall of the bluffs. The frothy lake and certain death were beyond the wall.
With a jolt and an incredible blubbering of ooze, the slide halted on the second wall of the bluffs. The oak tree tilted out over the water, swinging roots and branches like dripping tentacles. Reg turned over to his knees and looked up the slide. A big swell of softer ooze was flowing over the top edge. To save himself he turned to face the lake and dug in up to his knees. He stood up and the ooze flowed around him, slowly rising up his ribs, touching him like a filthy molester. Then water came pouring down and he held his breath as the contents of the shallow pond raced over him.
Waves lifted, broke into silted foam and seethed against the bluff wall. Reg was up to his armpits in mud, and the stuff stank like an outhouse. The pressure on his torso hurt like a gut punch. He tried to squirm, but found that he couldn't lift himself out. Panic and slime turned his dirty hair to hog bristles. He hollered for help, and found that hollering caused the mud to close and cut off his air. It left him choking, taking shallow breaths.
The slop began to percolate and splatter in his face; some sort of swamp gas was bubbling up, sour and rancid. A blob shot in his right eye and his hands fought in vain to reach it. He was afraid the gross gas would cause him to vomit and choke to death.
A torrent began, rain showered down, cleansing his eyes and face. When the downpour eased his eyes began to dart about, looking for hope like a trapped animal might look for hope. A buzzing sound circled his head and he went cross-eyed. A fat mosquito had lighted on his nose. He watched full of misery as the bug grew even fatter, and he felt like one of the kids he'd killed -- twisted in the clutches of something as abominable as it was unbelievable.
The mosquito flew off and he found himself staring straight ahead at an object rising out of the mud. Belching gas lifted it higher and higher. Mud streamed from it and Reg saw that it was a corpse. It had been in the slop a while and was badly bloated, swelling with pus and rot -- a mass of raw maggoty flesh and exploded veins. And it stank so bad that Reg choked and grimaced as he tried to hold his gorge down.
It rose to its hips and had a belly that had fattened to enormous size and was splitting like a rotten vegetable. Violet intestines emerged from the tear, hatching out on the mud like snakes. They were connected to a football-sized spleen gone slime green. Gobs of congealed gore, a slab of brown liver and a big red tongue of heart muscle followed; the whole thing a gross chimera of death and its ugliest decay.
Reg felt ill. All of his life he'd been an admirer of human organs, but this was incredibly different and disgusting. He'd always kept his body parts in locked sanitized containers, where he had power over them. Organs on the loose were one his worst fears.
Terror showed in his dilated eyes as the spleen and intestines slid toward him, but the spleen never reached him -- instead it exploded, throwing a wad of rotten tissue against his lips. Vomit rose and he choked horribly, certain that it was over, but after a few moments of flaming lungs and long rasps he was still alive.
A staring eyeball poked out of the mud in front of him and a heavy weight was pressing on his stomach. More swamp gas rose. As the eyeball continued to stare, the pressure rose up to his chest, and then he was rising slowly, propelled by the gas. He floated to his hips, his arms came free and he grinned hopefully.
Then another object began to rise in front of him and he tried to hold it down in case it was something foul. He failed and it continued to rise until ooze flowed off it, revealing it to be the dead little boy.
“Why can't you stay buried, you rotten kid!” he shouted, shaking the corpse violently, then he saw the tree moving and knew the slide was loose again. The oak tree slipped over the wall and the boy's corpse pressed against him as the slide slopped forward. Reg had the corpse by the shoulders, and it was jabbing at him with stiff limbs as he tried to shove it away. He continued struggling with it as the slide took him down the bluff wall and on to the bottom of the lake.
Reg managed to hold his breath as he went under and he saw air bubbles and the boy's corpse floating in the cloudy water above. He pumped his legs, trying to speed the melting of the mud at his feet, then waves of blindness hit him and he was rising. His lungs were a balloon about to burst. He expected to see his life pass before him, but instead he saw that old self-image again; himself as a corpse. This time he was swollen and splitting to slime in the algae at the shore. And this time it was the kids who were alive, dancing and skipping on the rocks as they poked him with sticks of driftwood.