's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Somewhere in America

Submitted by Queen Medb

Transcribed from the stories of one Zachariah Cornwall (1847-1947):

"Got asked what I am today. Sheriff's kid, nice kid. I'm a bit of e'rything, I think, so I said to him: I'm rock soup. That satisfied him, and won't get me hunged up on a rafter."

"Boss said we gotta ride out, been a string of murders, people missin' hands or teeth or their eyeballs. I said "Musta been bandits" and he said "musta been" but he didn't seem so sure about it. He seemed scared. So I got the biggest gun I could find, shotgun with slugs, and went out with him. We woulda rode our horses but we needed to load the entire force with us, so we took our wagon out, in hindsight that was stupid in case it got broken or one of the horses got shot, but we took our wagon out on the trail and went pretty far out too, we tried to get ourselves robbed but nobody came so we camped out. Johnny cooked up some bacon on his saber, which I done told him could warp the blade, but he wouldn't listen. He got gotdamned lucky, and the fire weren't so hot to do that, and he added the bacon to our beans."

"I asked him, "you got any magic beans in that there bag of yours? I could do to eat somethin' else besides refried beans in the mornin', gonna blow a hole in my pants at this rate" and Jebediah and the sheriff looked at me, before the sheriff told looked at Johnny and told him that it was true, "too many beans were the ruin of many a pioneers breeches, and that's why the women had the common sense to wear skirts, and the Scottish were ready in advance."

"After we had our laughs, Johnny said he heard somethin' off in the woods. We figured it must be a coyote, but we would go out and check anyways. Johnny grabbed his sword, I got my shotgun, Jebediah stayed behind to watch the beans because he didn't have anything beyond a .22, which was fine by us, he was a better cook than he was a shot, and the sheriff brought out his colt, the other three he owned still tied around his belt. We went out to find the mutt and maybe I'd make a hat out of it, mine old one was gettin' worn, and it certainly wasn't by me, havin' left that window open, but we went out lookin' for the coyote and came across the damndest thing, it looked like a footprint, like a real big man, albeit with longer toes, then another and another. We thought maybe it was a hermit, at first, and we'd see if he was our rampagin' bandit, but we weren't so lucky as for it to be a regular man. We came across what looked like a nest, a bunch o' sticks tied together, but I ain't never seen a bird lay a deer skull, said the sheriff, so we knew it wasn't that."

"There also appeared to be a watch on it, and when Johnny reached for it cause a free watch is a free watch, somethin' jumped from the trees, and Johnny spun 'round and slashed it real fast. I'll tell you, I never saw anythin' as hairy as that thing, while it yowled in pain, There was fur inside its lips, and it looked like another man if his mama was a gorilla-like from the zoo. We almost apologized, til we saw the things necklace of eyes and teeth, with hands holding its beard, mostly human, but some big and hairy just like it, so instead we shot it, and we kept shootin', though for a bit it didn' seem to mind, and it damn near knocked Johnny's head off with a kick, Jebediah said he landed perfectly in his seat but we all know its cause Jebediah liked to save face for anyone. We shot the thing in those woods, and when I put a hole in its head finally, it whimpered and scampered off on its hands and knees, and I dunno how it was still alive, but I suspect maybe it wasn't, and there was just enough kick in its brain and guts to keep it walkin' for a bit. The deaths on the road went way down, after that. But, I don't think it was the only one out there, we went to the woods later, and there was that skull again, this time turned upside down, filled with mushrooms and fruit and a dead rat, And a picture drawn in it. I still have that on the wall, three stickmen stabbing a sad and angry looking furry man, with other furry men cheering on in the trees."

"Course, this was nowhere near the last monster I saw, or any such weird thing, for that matter. I think the next thing after that was that hungry wall, which is a real funny name for a real scary thing, I tell ya. So, me and Johnny, we was out drinkin', had just got our pay for the week, and there was this wall on the way out the pub, red brick and all, and it had this mural on it, a goofy-looking man with this ridiculous mustache, with his mouth wide open, now, we were drunk, so Johnny thought it'd be funny to throw one of his sausages at the mouth, and as can be expected, the sausage bounced, splattering grease all over the wall, but when Johnny decided he was hungrier than the wall he decided to walk and grab his snack, but he couldn't find it anywhere. He still had his mashed potatoes, so he grumbled off eating those, and I went home to wake up to my regrets tomorrow. Boy was that accurate. So I woke up, I got up to go to the outhouse and piss out an empire, and lo and behold, behind that outhouse was a wall painted with the same mural, so I thought at the time."

"So I call Jebediah out, he was workin' his restaurant, which he saved up for after he was freed, with, admittedly, a little help from yours truly at "persuadin'" a man into donating his family gold, but I digress, but he was on his smoke break, so I called him out and told him the story, and jokingly ask him for his "world-famous" spaghetti, and I swear to you, this was the only man who could make butter on noodles sell, I ask him for some of it to show him what happened, and I swear, the noodles actually sucked into the murals mouth, staining it with a bit of oil. Was round this point I decided I didn't need to pee, and I think Jebediah needed two more cigarettes. But, at that point, it was just a really hungry wall, I supposed. Course, the next day, it had moved to Johnny's place, which he ran to me scared all about, so I took a look at it, and that's when I saw why he was scared: stickin' outta the damn thing's mouth was a cats tail, limp, and with blood streakin' down it. It was then we decided to get rid of the thing the best we could, and we waited a whole day by it, before fallin' asleep, possibly like idiots, but it wound up where we had hoped it'd wind up: the outhouse wall. So me, Johnny, and Jeb looked around and Jeb said: "So, uh... We're gonna need to build the town a new outhouse." and Johnny just cackled, he'd been workin' on a personal one when he realized he was buildin' it too far away anyways, he said, so that was one problem taken care of, but now we had to move the hungry wall, and boy was it ever..."

"The thing damn near bit off my arm when I waved it in front of its mouth to grab it round, and it hurt like a sonuvabitch, but we took it, despite it rattling and hissing the whole time, dropping leftover meals on us and swingin' em full force, we carried it to the deepest well we could, and we set it down for a second to rest, when I swear to you on grampa himself, the outhouse up and decided to roll away, grabbing a bite of a chicken on the way out. So we had to wait for the mural to come BACK. This time, we was ready, at least, to get rid of it, armed with torches and a gun, but this time it was inside Ol' Jeb's restaurant, and he was hoppin' mad cause it was right next to his shrimp barrel, or what was left of it. But we were ready anyway, so we took the torches to the paint and melted that bastard into a pile of goo, and it slithered off outside, and we gave chase, swingin' at it, again and again, 'til we were satisfied that it was decently melted and mixed with the sand. I heard, sometimes, people drop things there and they hear a "burp" like the hungry man was still hungry. I hope to god it's satisfied, cause the son of a bitch dropped a dead cow on me, so his appetite ain't small, I'll tell you that much."

"My next story wasn't so pleasant, I won't lie. We were out huntin' for this outlaw, you see, and, well, he was a slippery bastard, gettin' in and out of banks easily, leavin' only the guards dead, though a few people saw him so we knew who he was, Tom Jordan, who had previously been in prison for the murder of seven women across a three week period. So, it was just me, the sheriff, n' Johnny, who was wearin' his old military blues because he'd been called from a veterans club that day, tryin' to track Ol' Tom. why he was robbin' banks, we didn't know, but we suspected it was to get funds to go overseas, so we took a train to the nearest town that'd been robbed after ours. A fairly large city, I think it was a fort, once, so we had to go off of the bank he robbed, rent ourselves some horses, and investigate from there. Big city cops, they ain't the best, 'specially not for more tanned folks and I had the feelin' they'd be shootin' anyone less than ghostly, so we sent Johnny to talk to 'em, told him to meet us at the stockyards. We went 'round, saw their longhorns and highlanders, I talked about getting some for my Pa, back home, the works, when Johnny finally came up and told us, in no uncertain terms, we have to head north now."

"Turns out, Ol' Tom went nuts in his cell, havin' cut deep gashes into his face like a cat scratch, and in this robbery, had kidnapped a young girl. Knowin' his history, we didn't even say a word, we just mounted the horses and went off, I with my hand on my pistol, the sheriff carrying our bigger guns, and Johnny ready to the lead the charge, following any footprints we could find. With luck, we'd find him before the girl was dead, but... We all doubted it. Truth was, he didn't seem the sentimental type about his kills, and she was likely already nailed to a tree somewhere. We rode, and rode, and rode some more, and finally... We found her body. We had figured, of course, but something seemed off."

"Her body seemed... Paler, than a fresh corpse, and just a bit too long. She was chained to a tree, and the sheriff, god bless his traumatized soul, decided to open her eyes to check. They weren't there, but somethin' was, like two burnin' hot marbles, for example, rollin' out of her skull and burning a hole straight through the ground. It was then that she started screaming, but not like any scream I ever heard outta a human mouth, more like a dying cow, or a whale, so we took cover for a bit, havin' had enough of demons in our lifetime already. But she didn't stop howlin', and off in the trees, we saw somethin' movin' about. It looked like a demon, like outta an old paintin', big and horned, and it was draggin' old Tom around, by the neck, on a chain. But he didn't seem to be hurtin' or upset..."

"He was smilin'. Now, y'all expect me to have run and tried to shoot at the big scary demon, as we did with the wild man or the hungry wall, but that thing, it shook me to my core, so instead I asked the sheriff if I could do somethin', and when he nodded, I blew a hole right in Ol'Tom's heart. But it's like the demon's grip was so good on him, he couldn't even get away by dying, or maybe he just didn't want to, so I kept shootin', over and over, Til I was outta bullets, and when the thing started lumberin' towards us, we just ran, got on our horses, and stayed in the city overnight, 'til the next train would come. Big mistake, that was. Maybe if we'd pursued, or tried harder... Well, we went home, the next day."

"We shoulda' hunted Ol'scratched up face down, cause... Well, it was quiet for a month, funny enough, 'til we walked into the town jail and found everyone hunged up on the ceiling. Not by ropes, but by their guts, comin' outta their mouths like they'd ate somethin' bad. The sheriff seemed to be handlin' it as well as he could, which was to say he was screamin' and drinkin', wanting to mount an investigation into these murders cause the town drunk didn't deserve to die like that, nor did Ol' Bill, who had asked for a cell to sleep in, 'til he could get on his feet. But there weren't no need for an investigation, because sittin' there at the end was Tom himself. At least, what you coulda called Tom once. His skin was all gone, and instead wrapped around his muscles like bandages, except for on his head, which was just a skull now, with teeth so long and jagged I thought he was wearin' a chunk of a cave. The scratches in his face had cut deeper now, into the bone and his brain, and he was sproutin' extra arms, with fingers like a goats feet, all of them chained to the collar he had around his neck, which was now crusted with gold dollars, pennies, and quarter dollars. He had written his entire manifesto down and handed it to me. I couldn't read, of course, so I handed it to Johnny to read out loud: "If it isn't the ... I shouldn't say that word in polite company, but... If it isn't the Oedipus who shot me dead or at least tried. Ya know, they say God gave America to the blessed, but I don't recall giving it to anyone. Course, maybe that's because I am the new god, the American god, made of blood and money just like the rest of this land. Or maybe I'm the American devil? Don't matter. Oh, and, dear Zachariah, the rock soup who likes to be white in bigger cities, look behind you. " "

"Johnny turned around, expecting some gruesome scene, I'm sure, and... He didn't deserve to go like that, but Tom had somehow gotten out of the cell and wrapped the chains around Johnny, pulling them as tight as possible, splittin' Johnny in half, and Johnny had the same look of shock as the eyes on Tom, who turned to me and said in the growliest voice possible... "That death was meant for you. Are you illiterate?", "He then lifted me by the throat and threw me out the jail, and the sheriff, Poor bastard, did his best to stand up to the beast, but it just threw him through the bars of a cell, with no consideration for his bones or organs. He lived, thankfully enough, but there wasn't a day in his life he could ride a horse again, or even walk 'round much. But for me, I knew I had to nail Tom to the wall, someday, for that, and for Johnny. And luckily, he made it easy with a callin' card, an invitation to a duel burnt on the wall, in the old mines."

"Now listen, and listen well, because this story here with Ol' Scratch is the last I'm gonna tell for right now, but I think it's the most important one of the bunch. So... I suppose it's best to say, I was gonna honor his challenge, but I was gonna cheat, 'cause you don't go against a devil alone on his terms. So me and Jeb, we found a priest, from the church nearby, and told him all we could, told him to bring a cross and anything else holy, and to come to the mines with us, because we had to kill this demon, or drive it away, or whatever else was possible, even if it killed us. He looked at us like we were crazy, 'til I showed him that note, Johnny's body, and the sheriff, or, at this point, former sheriff, I suppose. We had to exhume Johnny for that, but considerin' the conditions, I think he understood. So, we went out to the mines, and, well, it took quite a few of my savings, but I got myself some dynamite, gave some to Jeb and the priest, and put the rest in spots around the mine, quite a few spots, to make sure if it came to it we could blow the mine to hell, no matter where we was. And after that, we waited."

"We got to know the priest, his last name was Bishop, actually, which I suppose really cemented his lot in life, and while he said he didn't drink much, we came to find out that meant often, what with his years on us of experience meanin' he could drink us under the table, and did. But... That didn't matter. We had a job to at least try. So yet again, we loaded up, as per tradition in the south, and headed to the mines. We weren't gonna let him be there first, with advantage. we headed to the entrance, set up camp, and Jebediah cooked us up some chili, but there wasn't no joy or laughter this time around .We ate in silence."

"And then came dawn, and over yonder hill he came, this time even less human. The arms on his back were numerous now, like the arms of a daddy-longlegs, and the chain he wore was now tangled around each of them, and reachin' into the sky, and his eyes had FINALLY rotted out, replaced with blazes that were burnin' his sockets red hot. He had a glow of joy to him, in spite of what agony he HAD to be in, as he quickly changed shape into a goatman, horned with yellow eyes, hooved, and tall. He changed back, yet again, perhaps just to show his powers off, and greeted us: "So, ya came, ya dumb fuck. I just wanted to let you know, before you tried to shoot me, or perhaps lit those sticks of dynamite (and I don't know how he knew, perhaps this mine was just as much a part of him as the horns.) that Ol' Tom is dead now. It seems he misunderstood the ritual. He didn't become a God, he fed himself to the void to create one. Not that it matters, I am still the one who killed your buddy, he just thought it was HIS idea. Pleased to meet you, though, I'm sure you can guess my name.""

" We shook in fear, before he parted the way through us, floatin' through me like a ghost. We knew, then, there wasn't any winning, but a deal was a deal, we had to duel. And it... It was awful, in there."

"The walls pulsed, like they were alive, breathin' and squirming. All the loose stones in the mine were replaced with weird-looking... Human grub things, wiggling on the ground, their beards cuttin' into the flesh. Old Scratch, because that wasn't Tom anymore, kept guiding us down, further and further. The next section of the mine was replaced with a prison, full of the awfulest people I could think of doin' the awfulest things to each other, the bars being missin', but I knew then that there weren't no need for them, it was their hatred for their fellow men keepin' em locked in their cells, as a splatter of blood and viscera flew into my mouth, and I lost my meal right there on the ground, especially as the gore was fly-ridden. But we marched on, because Old Scratch was behind us now, marchin' us along with a whip. He had collected the bundles of dynamite, too, and was smoking each one down, like a cigar, just to show us there was no point to this."

"He was the Devil, and whether or not we were innocent, we were in his power for makin' that deal with him. He could even hurt Mr. Bishop, we realized, as the lashes wore his clothes down to nothin'. And Old Scratch laughed and hissed. "You know, You could call the duel off, and I could just kill ya', instead." but we marched on. Finally, we reached the next stage of the mine, and it was as beautiful as you could imagine, which wasn't beautiful at all. It was nothing at all."

"Just blackness, all around that you could see, sometimes with a crack of white instead, or a haze of blue or red. The Devil finally stopped, dead center of "the room" if you could call it that, and told me to step forward. Do or die, it was. We stood there, and he started counting. One... The sweat trembled from my brow, I held my hand steady as I could. Two. He reached for his gun, as well. Three!"

"The priest suddenly leapt at the devil, fast as he could, before he could crack one off into my head. That cannon the devil held did a number on him, but that seemed to be the priests plan, and just as quick as the holy water poured on him, Jeb threw his cross into Scratch's eye, and realizing that this was a duel, still, I cracked as many shots into the devil as I could. I'd love to say that he burst into flames there, swelled up and popped. I'd love to say it, but instead, he just stood there and laughed. "Well, you sorry sonuvabitch, you cheated, but you won. Can't say Id've done different, had I brought lackeys, but, I'm new to this affair. So, you live, but for cheating, I grant you a revelation."

"And deeper I fell. It was dreamlike, everything there. I stood in the middle of a city, full of people walking and talking backward, dragged along by demons, dressed as soldiers and strong women, their burning skin not marring their perfect clothing. I saw a train, there, full of people who looked like me, albeit, probably Apache or Navajo, someone from the plains. They were in white cages, starved, gaunt, and at the head of the white train was a man dressed as Uncle Sam. He pointed to me and told me that I was beat, that this world was beat, this is all America now, and will be for the rest of time. That he didn't need to scare me, because he had already arrived to his destination."

"And next, I saw a red train, blazing. It barrelled down its tracks, and I could only briefly glance at the conducting it, who appeared to be an eagle-headed hunchback, carrying a large red-tipped bullet. In the cars behind it, I saw Warriors, English red coats and Confederate grey coats and Union blue coats, dead, but still eternally clashing, blades shattering off of each other, and behind them I saw uniforms I could not recognize, men in green wearing metal and holding rifles unlike any I had ever seen, automobiles mounted with strange machines that I recognized still as guns, skulls in piles. They stood in the flames and burning sands, flickering out, and I realized they had yet to be born."

"But next, still, I saw something, a black train, filled with gold.This, at least, I could understand to be a bankers train, and the next card would be filled with coins and paper money. And it was, but it was burning, and behind that I saw the engineer of the train, shoveling the ashes, not into an engine, but the mouths of starving children, skeletally thin and gaunt, their mothers turning the "food" away. The engineer appeared to be a government man, his face cut out in a triangular shape, except for his evil left eye. And he glared at me, before pointing me to the final train, being conducted by an undertaker, with Johnny in it, and the monster we had killed, and all of Old Tom's victims, with Tom being in the burner. And behind it, there were rows and rows of corpses, some so ancient that I could not recognize if they were even people, or not. And behind those, there were glass cars, filled with black oil, creatures inside squirming, gasping to get out. And there I saw a map of the world, a globe, and it, too, was burning. I came to understand who these men were, and I screamed, as loud and long as I could, knowing why they were, and I screamed until I blacked out."

"I believe it was Jebediah who carried me out, though he now seemed older, and distant. I suppose I was older, too, as I saw his children, pointing to me, saying "He finally woke up! that old Indian, Papa, he's awake!" and Jebediah had this trembling sorta look, of nervousness, and joy. I don't think I'd ever seen a grown man cry like that, before, though his wife, and I could tell it was his wife as she seemed perhaps five years younger than him, and he had no younger siblings, didn't quite seem to understand, sayin' we ALL knew he'd wake up. I knew I'd have to tell him what the devil had shown me, but I guess Jebediah had explained the rest, beforehand, Because the kids wanted to know about me killing bigfoot and that ghost and fighting the Devil himself."

"Nosy kids, Jeb." "Well, what do you expect? You met some legends, and I'd bet you're behind a few of them only being legends, now."

"And that, I suppose, was a good enough answer. I suppose I could regale you with a few more stories, sometime, like that robot I gambled with. But...I believe, unfortunately, that We're comin' upon somethin' bad. I heard rumblings of a great war, something to end all wars. I hope that that second part is true. Maybe the world won't be so bad, if so."