Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Stuart
In the city there are places that ring with the fall of hammers and shake with the hum of machinery. There are people here, the men and women who feed the furnaces, line the presses and conveyors.
Between the shifts they raise their families and eke out what could, in the half-light, be called a life.
Amongst them there is a man who appears like any other. Faceless, dead-eyed. A cog in the machine. Between shifts, however, something stirs within him. Something spreads its wings, even here, in a world that has never known sky.
Now is such a time. His heart races, so loud he can hear nothing but its frantic beat, a constant reminder that he is alive.
He is home.
His gloves are shoved into a case with his tools and slung over his shoulder. The only evidence of his crime is the splintered paint around the screws of a heating grille. It will be months, perhaps years, before it is opened again.
He turns the lock and slides the bolts back, one after another.
There is a noise. Movement. Someone in the next room.
His heart pounds still quicker in his chest, but he is not afraid. He reaches into his bag of tools, selects one, and moves to the door. He pushes it open as slowly as possible. He does not wish to alert the intruder yet.
A female voice.
Now fear grips him and the weakness of it infuriates him. He has no right to be afraid – only an hour before he feared nothing. Certainly no woman.
He offers no reply as he throws opens the door, knife held ready. No doubt she sees it. The thought is a pleasing one, but his own fear presses down upon him now. He can see her, dimly, though his eyes have yet to adjust to the flickering light.
“Don’t you recognise me?” she smiles, stepping forward.
She is young, unremarkable, but he staggers back as though struck when he sees her face. It is a face he has seen before.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you.”
He lurches forward, lashing out.
The woman pushes him back with a smile and a hand on his chest.
“There’s no need for that,” she sighs, pulling the knife free without any sign of pain. “I am no revenant returned from the grave to seek vengeance. This form is but a mask to me.”
She pulls open her overalls to reveal pale skin, still stained with earth and dried blood, and smiles knowingly at him.
“We have watched you for some time, Solomon. There is such potential in you, such desire. You are a flame amidst sparks, here, but it is not enough for our needs, or for mine. You are shackled, still constrained by fear and the remnants of morality.”
Now her fingers push through skin, and she peels it away from the musculature beneath. She sighs with pleasure, eyelids fluttering. Colour blooms in her pale, dead cheeks.
“That is why I am here,” she says, voice level in spite of her obvious enjoyment. “To improve you, to forge you anew. I am your salvation, Solomon.”
She tears out strips of flesh, teasing organs aside before they, too, are removed. Her eyes lock onto his and she bites a lip red with cheap lipstick.
“You are afraid, Solomon, afraid because you are alone and you are different. You, alone, are awake in a world full of sleepwalkers, and yet... afraid of them and of yourself, afraid of what you are, what you could be... Afraid to listen to your heart in case you hear it tick.”
Solomon looks away, shielding his face. Half-formed prayers and profanities spill from his lips.
“There is no need for you to beg for absolution, Solomon. This is not a judgment,” she coos, placing a hand on his cheek. Blood mingles with tears. “I am not here to punish you. I came to offer you a choice, and to reward you, should you accept my offer.”
Her hand plays along his jaw and curls under his chin, pulling it up to her face.
“Before I explain, I have something to show you.”
She takes his hand, gently, and he offers no resistance as she pulls it down to her abdomen, guiding it through ravaged flesh and inside her.
He can feel something moving.
“This is a child that grew in a barren womb, a child nourished by the cold earth of a shallow grave. This is your child, Solomon. Take it. All the fear, the shame and the guilt you push away, everything you reject, is here.”
Something grasps his hand. He tries to pull away, but her grip tightens.
“Take it, Solomon. It belongs to you.”
He opens his eyes for a moment and she gazes back into him. Her eyes are entirely black. No irises, no detail at all. No reflection stares back at him from their dull surfaces.
She pulls the child free and thrusts it into his arms. It is slippery with blood and he can hear its shuddering breaths.
He risks a glance – its skin is raw, ulcerated, covered in a network of scars that make it look almost as though it has been stitched together.
“You have a choice. You can take the child and nurse it, raise it behind closed doors, another secret in a city already full of secrets. You can take back everything you fled and regain your humanity and what that entails; that you live forever with the shame and guilt and fear.”
Her shape flickers, becoming whole once more, then a tall, proud creature, rippling hair spreading like a halo behind her.
“Or you can have me; like her, like this, anything and anyway you can imagine. I am yours to take, to tear, to torture. Whatever you desire, I will provide. Whatever you desire, I will become. When you are spent you will be free, forever, of the pallid thing that clutches blindly at your shirt, free of the faces that wait for you in your dreams.”
He looks once more upon the pale thing in his arms and it looks up to him, imploring with bloodshot eyes he recognises all too well, eyes that wait for him in every mirror.
“Kill the murder-child, Solomon, and give me a daughter. That is the price of my boon.”