© by Gary Morton (4400 words)
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Rusty pictured death as a
typhoon. It was a great power that could wipe out every trace of his
miserable existence. When he was a child and a good life was as certain as
his dreams, death was an enemy. Now death appeared as a friend, but an
illusive friend constantly escaping him. On every street and alley, he could
see the Reaper ahead, his cloak of bones and decay fluttering as he fled
around a distant corner.
Glancing around the cluttered
shack he called home, he figured he could just as well be looking at the
mess in his own head. Rusty knew he was disturbed, a misfit - he had that
power of reflection. His self-image wasn't distorted; it was like truth he
couldn't escape. A shambling loner, wherever he worked he would eventually
be fired. People just didn't like him and it just wasn't fair. With women
the hitch was that he was a total fickle, and few women cared for him,
especially not after they learned of his bizarre sexual preferences. His gay
lovers quickly learned to hate him even more. He wasn't really dangerous,
and although he preferred dirtier words, weirdo was the term most often used
when it came to him. So what could he do? The things that got him off
weren't things he'd wished for; he was just sort of stuck with them.
A brief and twisted idea
emerged and then suddenly vanished as Rusty realized that today was money
day. His employment insurance payment was already on the wire, popping
directly into his account. He booted a pizza box aside and for some strange
reason he saw the bank computer staring at him with beady eyes. Nasty
thoughts possessed him and he felt his blood boil as he walked to the back
door. Swinging it open, he clenched his fist and shook it, thinking that
this time he wouldn't fail - by God! He'd have just enough money to kill
When the brightness of the
sun cleared, he saw through blood haze and realized he was shaking his fist
at a little girl skipping on the beaten earth of his back yard. He shook his
knuckles with even more fury, “Get out of here you little brat! I'm the bad
man!” A grimace bit his face as she thumbed her nose at him and ran away.
Funny, the way her eyes are so tiny and beady, he thought as he watched her
bolt through a space in the fence.
Out on the street he walked
to the bank with some plans hatching in his head. It was a beautiful summer
day, but his mind was like a bloodshot eye that hurt in the light.
Rollerblades in the window of the Fabulous Sports Shop were the first thing
he really noticed. It would be nice to roll over to one of those steep hills
in Rosedale and then speed skate down to the highway. By the time the
traffic finished with him he'd look like a carcass thrown from a meat wagon.
It was a nice thought but the chances of survival were too good, and he
didn't want to end up in one of those new wheelchairs that wipe your drool
and spoon-feed you as you roll along.
He envisioned a Smith and
Wesson revolver, and then got angry with himself. He'd tried to buy a gun
but couldn't meet the license requirements. “Damn new laws, they're screwing
us all!” he said to a telephone pole as a misfit-hating businessman tiptoed
across the road to avoid him. He'd also tried to buy a hot piece, only some
slick black dudes up on Jane Street had sold him a replica. To make matters
worse, some other guys had surprised him while he was in an alley trying to
figure out why the replica didn't work. He'd hoped they'd cut his throat and
leave him to die like a dog. Instead, a gang leader with a lower lip as big
as a trout had nailed him in the balls. Rusty wished his wallet had been a
Drowning, now drowning was
something else. He stopped in his tracks. It hadn't worked before because he
always went down to the river and hopped off the bridge. Then a panic
response would cause him to swim to shore. What if he rented a boat and
motored out a ways? Naw, he thought with a shake of his head. Too much room
for failure there, and if it was possible to fail, he would do so. He didn't
like the idea of his life flashing before him either - he was trying escape
it not relive it.
Beady eyes again, staring
down from a maple tree. He halted; they made him think of little black
pills. Cutting through the park, he thought of drugs he could overdose on.
The little black pills he'd taken last time were out, since all they'd done
was turn him into a zombie for three days - and give him pneumonia. He
winced as he recalled the jabbing pains in his chest. Drugs were only an
option if he was sure they'd kill him fast and clean, and with his high
tolerance - rat poison only gave him diarrhea - to everything, they weren't
the best option.
Gas was out. He'd already
turned a pal's house into a pile of splinters with gas. Who would expect the
mailman to come and press the doorbell while the place was filling up with
gas? Rusty had been returning from the ZIPSHOP with matches when he saw the
roof blow and come in for a landing on the house next door. What really
changed his mind concerning gas was the sight of the mailman's head bouncing
up the sidewalk. Gas was too messy. It was for slobs and litterbugs, and
there were a lot of slobs - guys who made sure they left their brains
dripping from the walls. There was even the jerk that jumped from a
skyscraper and went through the glass roof of a shopping mall. There are
ways of saying good-bye, and coming through a high roof as a rain of blood,
glass, sausage bits, giblets, chickens quarters and cubed beef tongue isn't
one of those ways.
Inspiration was drying up,
but he could see the bank machine and he was sure a handful of bills would
also be a handful of ideas. The machine looked lonely and abandoned,
attached to the side of a gas station like a growth of plastic junk. A robot
corpse and he wished it was a spitting maw of doom instead of a money
dispenser. Sinister, that's what it is, he thought, trying to imagine
something sinister about it as he stepped lightly across the street. At
least it's as sinister as a JANE CA$H machine can be.
The tinted window was down
and he saw his own desperate face staring back at him as he took out his
card. Stepping sideways, he checked his profile as he slipped the card in
the slot. He always looked so much better in profile; if only he could stand
sideways when he talked to people, he'd feel cool instead of lousy.
The plastic window slid up
and he found his profile replaced by two beady eyes. He jumped back as if
from a rattler, then he cautiously stepped back up. Disbelief made him
light-headed. Instead of the usual instructions, two eyes were in the slot.
They were textured like black marbles and had an intense shine.
He stuck a finger in to poke
“Don't touch,” said an
intelligent and very human voice.
“Who are you?”
“I'm the devil.”
Rusty's eyes were rather flat
to begin with and now they went as dull as fried eggs. His face soured like
he'd seen a roach skitter across his plate. “This is a trick. I know the
devil isn't a machine. You better choke out some money or else.”
“Please pay up the interest
on your credit card, sir, or I'll punch your teeth out.”
“So, the dirty, rotten bank
is behind this.”
No sooner had Rusty spoken
than fifty-dollar bills began to shower out of the slot. Moving swiftly he
pocketed the wad, then he glanced around.
“See, I don't work for the
bank. I'm a robber.”
“I thought you were the
“I don't want people to
believe in me. Actually, I'm called the faceless one. You are destined to be
the eyeless one. Today I'm wearing this bank machine for a face. I'd much
appreciate it if you would help me get a new face?”
“I can't. I'll be killing
myself today, and I really don't know how to help.”
“Scratch my back and I'll
scratch yours. Help me and I'll help you die?”
“Okay, but how?”
“Take me out of the machine
and put me in your pocket. We can talk more later.”
Rusty plucked the eyeballs
from the slot. Now that he took a close look, he could see they were very
old. Almost like real eyes that had blackened and petrified. He figured he'd
struck a poisonous jackpot so he stuck them in his pocket as carefully as he
Walking back across the
street, he saw his pal Steve coming around the corner. Steve had a bounce to
his step so that he seemed to be walking on air or climbing a ladder. His
cheeks were sunken and he had a forehead full of moon craters. Rusty had
chummed around with him in high school. He figured Steve to be the sort who
wasn't bright enough to kill himself.
“Listen,” Steve threw an arm
around him. “Ever thought of robbing a grocery store or maybe even a bank?”
“Nope, but I'm looking for a
gun if you got one.”
“I have a replica, but forget
that for now; let's talk hold-up. A supermarket heist would be easy, but I
guess you've never had the guts to do business with real crime.”
“Don't bet on it. I'm gonna
commit the big M today.”
“Who is this insect you're
“You are uncool, very
“Yeah, I'll show you
“Okay, hit me with it.”
“It's not an it. It's a who.”
“All right. Who?”
“The faceless one, here he
is,” Rusty said, pulling the eyes from his pocket. Than he blinked as no
eyes were there. He was holding two black marbles.”
“The faceless one. Right.
Listen, Rusty, kill yourself right away, just for me.”
As soon as Steve stepped
away, the marbles became morbid eyes. “Gasoline,” said the faceless one.
“You need a big can of gasoline. Now don't ask questions, just do it -
believe me, you'll see death and love dying.”
As it happened, Rusty had a
large gas can among the rubbish in his back yard. He judged it suitable and
took it to the station. The faceless one is a genius, he thought on the way
back. But if he thinks I'm gonna set myself on fire he's also crazy.
Curiosity got the better of him and he took out the eyes. They were brighter
now, with a shine almost like a bluebottle fly.
“I know all about fire,”
Rusty said. “If I light myself up and live I could end up screaming in pain
for weeks before I die.”
“What you do is set fire to
some old carpets. The smoke will be lethal poison that'll kill you quick and
Rusty jammed the eyes back in
his pocket. Ahead, through a hole in the fence, he saw the little blond girl
playing among the rubbish in his back yard. Setting down the gas can, he
picked up a stone and winged it off a rusty hubcap by her feet. She took off
and ran behind a pile of old bricks and shingles. He didn't bother to pursue
her, but instead cut through and opened the padlock. There was a bong as a
stone struck the gas can. Turning, he saw the girl duck and run behind the
Smartass kid, he thought as
he went inside. An idea came to him and he went straight to the couch and
sat down. Why not forget helping the faceless one and just asphyxiate myself
and get it over with - yeah, why not? As he got up to pile some carpets in
the center of the room, he noticed a leak in the gas can where the stone had
struck. Checking the contents with a slosh, he found that a good bit of gas
had already leaked out. Quickly, he carried it back out to the yard and
plugged the hole with a piece of rag.
Back inside he decided to
have a last cigarette. A Lucky Strike. But when he tried lighting the smoke,
he wasn't lucky. The matches were damp. After three or four broke, one
fizzed and went out. Frustrated he snapped one hard on the emery paper. It
lit but the head flew off and landed in spilled gasoline. The gas ignited
and flames poofed and followed a line across the room and out the door to
the can. To his horror, he could see the little girl standing out there,
preparing to toss a stone.
It was a stone that was never
thrown. The gas can burst into a sheet of flame and engulfed her. Thinking
to help her, he snatched up a blanket and ran through the flames. She was
already a human torch, but when the blanket went around her, she became a
fireball. He hadn't noticed that the blanket was gas soaked.
Staggering clear, Rusty beat
out the fire on his clothes. It was too late to save the girl; she'd died
before she could even scream. He grabbed a mat and went to work beating out
the flames in the house. When he stepped back outside again her smoking
corpse was crumpled beside his old rusted-out Ford.
Grabbing the feet, he dragged
the body into the house, burning his hands on her melted shoes in the
process. Since it was a flash fire, he figured no one had noticed, or if
they had, thought it was a controlled bonfire. It dawned on him that he'd
put the fire out when he could've inhaled the fumes. Goddamn, he muttered,
wondering why he always did the wrong thing.
After locking the doors, he
dragged the body into the bedroom and closed the curtains. The little girl
hardly looked human at all. The burlap blanket was burned to her in such a
way that she resembled a charred fire log. Only her head and feet protruded
at the ends. Her face was hideous, the mouth forced open by a tongue like a
big scraping from the bottom of someone's oven. Two holes running with
thickening lava were her eyes, and she had only a blistered lump for a nose.
Some of her hair hadn't burned, although now it was scorched and smoke
This was big trouble; if the
cops were to come, they'd call it murder. He'd be ruled insane and put in a
place without even a belt to hang himself. He wept, feeling like he really
had gone mad. The thought of people discovering that he'd fried a little kid
was unbearable. His photo would probably appear next to the killer clown in
the crime flashbacks. And what about the trial, all those shrinks and
lawyers pretending to be on your side while they really felt you should be
disemboweled. Questions, sweat and endless interviews; you had to be
long-winded to answer to justice, and they would never let you die.
Hanging his head got tiring.
Maybe the faceless one had an answer. A way to kill himself fast. He took
out the eyes, and found their stare to be both morbid and fierce. “You tried
to cheat me,” the faceless one said. “I'll make you pay.”
From a wicked stare to a
hypnotic gleam, Rusty saw tiny windows grow in the pupils. A vision took
him, thoughts of suicide vanished, drums pounded in a rain forest, a beat of
the blood, hot as an eruption from a molten god. There were bubbles in a
cauldron that resembled the faceless one's eyes, and silver began to flash
and take form. Finally, he was looking down, watching himself take a knife
out of the cutlery drawer in the kitchen.
His eyes belonged to the
faceless one; they were evil and intense. Blood thick as strawberry syrup
oozed as he cut the corpse's head off. His face became lined, his neck
muscles corded as he strained on the blade. Once the head was free, he sat
in an armchair, cradling it in his lap. Two burning eyes were all he seemed
Soon he knew it was time and
he got out a sharp fruit knife. With deep and precise cuts, he removed the
scorched skin and scalp. The skull and the rest of the body he wrapped up
for burning in an old carpet.
Taking a sturdy needle from a
wooden box on his dresser, he prepared to sew the lips. Using pins, he held
them everted while he sliced some leather fringes off an old coat. With
fishing line for thread, he stitched the headskin up, and then he sewed the
leather through the lips.
Now it was time to boil the
headskin. Holding it over the pot, he muttered some verses of a heathen
incantation. The water bubbled red when he plopped the skin in . . . some
parsley and spice served for seasoning.
After an hour of cooking, he
used tongs to remove the headskin and dried it with a towel. Taking out a
jar of honey, he combed some through the sparse hair, and then he hung the
headskin on a rusty nail on the door.
Out back, he built a small
fire, making sure to place some large stones on the blaze. His eyes were
arsonist wild. He watched until the fire smoldered out, then he took down
the skin. Using a small spade, he carefully filled it with hot sand and
stones. He set it upright on a plank and in time, it began to shrink. Stones
and the sand were forced out at the neck. Rusty had taken care to arrange
the remains of the hair so that it hardened neatly into gruesome place.
Darkness had fallen and now
the moon looked on with the faceless one as Rusty built a bonfire and burned
the carpet-wrapped body. Using a hook and chain, he hung the head over the
fire to smoke it. At midnight, when only ashes remained, he took the
shrunken head inside and placed the faceless one's eyes in the empty
sockets. Then he touched it over and hardened it with resin. For a final
touch, he polished it and sealed it in a large gleaming jar.
He was in his rocking chair
when he came back to himself, and he stared in horror at the hideous
creation in the jar on his lap. So the faceless one really was some kind of
devil, and he'd arranged the girl's death in order to come back as a
shrunken head. It caused his heart to sink; he didn't like the idea of
devils being real. They would put him in torment when he succeeded at
suicide, or at least they would if he was stupid enough to die with one in
his lap. He decided that disposing of the faceless one would be a wise move.
Dirt was baked on his hands
and his skin crawled with invisible maggots so he put the faceless one on
the coffee table while he showered and shaved. It did no good, his stomach
was sour and weak and a soup of sickness swam before his eyes. Bugs seemed
to be eating at his back and he ground his teeth as he put on a red T-shirt
and jeans. After scrubbing his hands raw and red he gave up, figuring his
state of the creeps was an emanation from the faceless one.
Rusty's logic had never been
good, but his thoughts were clear enough to tell him that an evil being like
the faceless one would have plans that didn't include him as a long-term
partner. He was just an instrument, some idle hands that had been used. His
hair began to rise and he felt hackles lifting on the back of his neck.
Insects crawling on him, his breath like garbage cans; the faceless one had
to be turning him into a zombie slave. Zombies and shrunken heads go
hand-in-hand he figured. That's what he must be up to.
He grabbed the jar. The eyes
were glowing softly, like Mars, and the face was absurdly hideous. “Okay
faceless one, you got even. So what's this you're doing now?”
The gruesome lips didn't move
but the faceless one spoke. “You want to be dead so now you feel like a
“That's not dead. That's the
living dead. Take the feeling away.”
“Okay, listen. I've decided
to drown myself. Want to come down to the river with me? You can watch me
“Why jump. I can make you
feel like a bloated corpse now.”
Rusty held up his hands, and
though they looked normal, he could feel his fingers swelling and popping.
His testicles blew up to balloons and split grossly. Gas began to hiss from
holes all over his body. A monstrous slab of rotten meat was in his throat.
Wet things were swinging from a gash in his belly. Even his eyes were
swelling. The worst pain came from the worms he could feel chowing down on
“I want to die, not feel like
“But what's death other than
feeling like corruption forever?”
“I'll say a prayer before I
die so I'll feel good.”
“Say any prayers around me
and I'll make you feel like a bucket of maggots.”
“I don't know any prayers, so
To be practical Rusty took a
covering from an old birdcage and draped it over the faceless one before
going out. Although he felt somewhat better, his feet still smacked the
pavement like dead meat. The moon was full and the night had graveyard airs.
No sooner had he got to the corner than a police cruiser appeared and began
to crawl alongside him. Sweat appeared instantly and beaded his brow, then
the cruiser's sparklers began to spit hellfire and it sped off.
“That was close,” he said,
stopping and peaking at the faceless one.
“Fancy that. They think just
“They were thinking of
throwing you in the river.”
“Why are the good guys
“Boy, are you stupid. Power
leads to arrogance and corruption.”
Deciding it would be better
to stay off the streets, Rusty cut through a long park that stretched over
to the banks of the river. Usually there were more muggers than trees and he
didn't want trouble. He took the cover off the faceless one so the sight
would scare off any creeps.
Shambling along feeling like
a swamp thing, he made his way over the rolling turf, all the while keeping
his eyes fixed on the dark arch of a bridge and a glittering ribbon of
water. As he grew close to the rush of water and spray, willow trees
overshadowed him, their dark shapes creating a tidal wave of death and dark
night that was soothing. He never would've imagined that feeling like a
corpse would give him insight. Yet he had an awareness of all men as
corpses. Life was a flash of brilliance few people experienced. Even the
faceless one, when he turned mortals into shrunken heads, was trying to be
alive, to break out of the numb ritual of death and darkness and glimpse the
Shades of anger began to
lighten his step; the corpse cloak of the faceless one was melting in the
moonlight. He found himself hating the dead, too much of the world was dead,
and as he walked up the footbridge his eyes were alive with madness.
He set the jar on the wall.
Directly below a fast piece of river spat foam. He watched it bubble,
knowing why he'd chosen suicide. It wasn't that he was trying to find the
darkness; he was trying to find the light. Except for a few happy days, he'd
always been dead, and he wanted to escape. Suicide was the manifestation of
an inner truth.
He looked to the faceless
one. The eyes were bright, but this time with fear. “So you want to watch me
die!” Rusty said, seizing his moment of revenge. “Then watch from the
He swept the jar up and
tossed it in one smooth motion. It tumbled toward the water, a bright soap
bubble in the moonlight. Rusty never saw the splash; his eyes caught fire,
shooting stars of pain, and he gouged the embers of it out. Then he was
aware of floating darkness and death as he fell to the water.
A reflection of clouds and
the summer day almost hid Rusty from view. But he was there, rocking in his
chair with his hands in his lap. His face was to the window, but he wasn't
aware of the world outside.
It was lunchtime on the
grounds and one of the younger psychiatrists looked up, getting a clear view
from his place at the picnic table. He turned to his mentor, a rather
sophisticated older man with salt-and-pepper hair. “He believes he's a
corpse, and though he put his eyes out he sees a hellish world he can
describe in vivid detail.”
“Yes,” the older man said. “I
studied his case, and the strangest part is what happened to the man that
“What was that?”
“After he pulled him ashore
he lost his mind. He's in a padded cell. He screams a lot, mostly about a
disembodied head he thinks is staring at him.”