Around seven that evening, coincidentally at the same time Ben Dowling was getting out of work, Jack Handlan was getting done with a “responsibility” of his own.
Jack had gotten home from a hard day at work for the tree service, taking down three trees and trimming the branches of a few others, essentially all by himself since the other guy on the job, Billy Brissler, couldn’t even tie his shoes correctly.
Jack had sweated, Jack had bled, but he had put in a solid day of work and had been paid accordingly. He busted his back and his ass to put food on the table when he got home, so when he walked in and found that particular night’s meal to be cold and unsavory, he knew what had to be done.
Kelly was a sweet girl with an angelic face that could pass for eighteen even at age twenty-eight. Her eyes were deep, dark, and sensual, and her hair matched perfectly. Her face was a smooth, pale palate without a single natural flaw. She was a sweet dream of a woman.
The fact remained that she was a woman, however, and Jack Handlan was of the opinion that a strong man had to keep his woman in line.
With the new age feminism bullshit springing up left and right, it appeared to Jack that every woman got it in her head that it was okay to be a regular slut; to show her tits off and shake her ass toward any cock that came her way. Jack wouldn’t have a woman like that. He have a woman who was proper like his mother had been, and she had only been proper because his father had kept her in line.
Jack only hit Kelly because he loved her. He wanted her to be the very best wife and person she could be. Any little slip up could start a bad habit, and one bad habit left unchecked and festering could derail someone’s life. Jack played the role of authority in Kelly’s life, a role she desperately needed and he was happy to fulfill.
It meant he loved her, after all.
The moment Jack took a bite into the cold chicken and mashed potatoes, however, he lost any trace of love or happiness. His body ached from a hard day’s work and his stomach craved nourishment. After all he had done to bring home some money, that ungrateful bitch couldn’t even find the time to make him a proper meal. It wasn’t like she had much else to do the rest of the day; Jack was the only one bringing home the bacon.
Kelly needed a lesson in appreciation. Kelly needed a lesson in manners.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Kelly wailed, raising her hands in self defense. She backed up towards the wall, her one hundred and twenty pound figure dwarfed by his two hundred and twenty pound frame.
“I was just catching up on the laundry. I didn’t know when you would be in and…” Jack didn’t let her spit excuses any longer.
POP! He hit Kelly on the side of the face with a half-closed fist and she stumbled backward, somehow maintaining her balance. Years ago, Jack thought mildly, that would have dropped her without any resistance. I’m putting some piss and vinegar in her that’s for sure.
Kelly held her face, and the excuses were gone. “I’ll make it again. I’ll make you a proper dinner.” Her eyes were to the floor, her voice masked in shame. Typically this was enough. If it hadn’t been such a rough day, Jack would have let her off with one good pop.
But he was in such a terrible mood.
BAM! Words weren’t needed as he spoke with his fists, hitting her in the eye with a straight right. Kelly shrieked and fell backward into the wall, sliding down it and crumpling into a heap on the floor.
Jack had never gone too easy on his wife when he beat her. His father had always said if you hit like a woman, someone would mistake you for a woman. It was important to let Kelly know Jack was a man and she would get no slack if she did wrong.
“You just don’t learn do you, bitch?” he shouted. “I don’t ask for too much and this is how you treat me?”
“I’m sorry, Jack! I’m sorry! Please . . .” Kelly pleaded, hiding her face, too ashamed to stare at the man she married and the life she had chosen for herself.
Jack kicked her in the side, aiming for the ribs so she would feel it enough to never forget to serve him a real dinner. Kelly let out a short yelp but after didn’t make a sound. She knew at that point she would only make it worse for herself, so she did the only thing she could: accept her punishment and wait for it to be over.
Jack kept kicking and kicking, two in the gut, then a few more to her shins as Kelly balled up in a weak attempt at defending herself. Jack hated when Kelly went silent like that. He never knew if he was doing a good enough job at hitting her unless he could hear its effect—no man wants his treatment to be ineffective after all. In order to assure she was getting the message clear as crystal, Jack aimed his last kick at Kelly’s head. He connected the toe of his work boot to Kelly’s forehead through the small gap in her arms.
Kelly’s head shot backward. It slammed off the wall behind her with a loud thud. She collapsed to the carpet, lying as a limp form battered, bruised, and thoroughly beaten.
The sight convinced Jack that Kelly had learned her lesson.
“Now make me a real dinner,” Jack spit. “I’m going out to get a drink but by the time I get back there better be something mouthwatering on this table. And wear something sexy too, I’m planning on plowing you later.”
Kelly’s silence was acceptance. Jack knew she would listen, and by the off chance she didn’t, she would earn another beating.
Sometimes he suspected she liked it.
After he was done with his duty, Jack stood outside his small home, a run-down modular on a dirt road just off Washington Street, and considered what he had done.
I taught her good, I’m doing a good job keeping that bitch in line. Once she realizes how good she has it thanks to my work I can be a little softer on her but ’til then I can’t tolerate slip ups, no sir.
Jack stared off into the foggy evening, thinking of his father and all the beatings he had let loose on Jack and his mother. Kelly had it easy compared to what Jack’s mom had to suffer through. If Jack’s father was ever offered a cold dinner, that woman would lose a tooth, and if Jack ever had anything to say about it he would lose one too.
As he looked out into the fog, he could hear his father’s voice telling him he would amount to nothing, he would never be half the man his father had been.
“You’re soft, Jack, just a regular momma’s boy. You wanna keep suckling on her? You’re never going to go anywhere in life, you soft little shit.”
Jack took a somber moment to reflect on whether he was doing his father proud. As he took the first few steps away from his home, he noticed something odd.
Did the fog just get thicker, right in front of my eyes?
Jack’s pickup was only twenty feet away from him, and a moment earlier had been in perfect sight behind the light layer of mist. Now it was like a cloud had swept in and isolated him from his vehicle. He had just seen the truck but now it seemed like it was a football field away. It was only a small, dark outline behind the haze, and it seemed to be shrinking, disappearing.
What the fuck? he thought, straining his eyes in an attempt to beat the optical illusion. Then he heard it.
The noise came from behind him. It reminded Jack of the sound made when his father sharpened the ax before they went off to chop firewood in the backyard, except this noise wasn’t completely metallic. It had a guttural element to it, like it was alive.
Jack spun around, seeing nothing but fog.
“What the fuck was that?” His shout seemed to hit a wall only a few feet in front of him. There was no response and, to Jack’s dismay, he could no longer see his home.
“Going to give you a lickin’, Jacky boy! Gonna get the belt out for this one you little shit!” Lawrence Handlan taunted his son from beyond the grave.
Jack couldn’t see anything. There was only that awful blank wall of gray. It moved toward him, overcoming him, enveloping him, consuming him.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Something moved with amazing speed in the fog, just off to his right. Jack jumped backward.
“Hey, whoever the fuck you are get out of here before I break your fucking face!”
Whoosh. This time it passed close in front of him, and he could make out a dark blur. He stumbled back, nearly falling, but the close contact with the figure was not the only thing that startled him.
The smell, he thought. What the fuck is that smell? It smells like a tower of burning tires, or some three week old road–kill, or maybe some mix of both.
It was a pungent odor, the type that seemed to stick to him despite how quickly he recoiled from its source. It was vile, sickening, and so overwhelming. Jack had done enough physical labor and had ended up in enough dive bars to have experienced his fair share of foul odors, but none of them could compare with what he had just taken a whiff of.
Whoosh. It was behind him.
“Come get what you deserve, you little bastard,” his father cackled.
Jack spun around and he saw something that did not make sense; something that was impossible.
The figure was coming out of the fog, as if it had been part of it. It phased in and out of existence, becoming more and less visible as it drifted back and forth. Jack’s mind couldn’t immediately understand the physical nature of what was before him, and he didn’t have the composure to settle down and truly take in the form of the beast.
Jack saw darkness, deep darkness, around a body vaguely resembling that of a human. Jack couldn’t avoid the thought that shot through his head.
He’s hiding in the fog. He’s not revealing himself to me. There’s more . . . there’s a lot more.
“What the fuck do you want?” Jack did his best to maintain his tough guy edge, even though he was shaking so badly he couldn’t have intimidated the most skittish five year old.
The figure did not respond. It moved with eerie grace, gliding through the noxious fog without effort. It stared at him with eyes Jack could not see, but eyes he could feel. It stared at him with hate and hunger; it gazed upon him with the most malevolent form of desire. It circled around Jack, drawing closer and closer with each pass, and with each pass the creature’s form started to solidify. Soon Jack’s mind began to piece together and reveal the shape of the monster bearing down on him.
What the hell? That’s not possible. This thing is not possible. This is a fucking dream.
Jack spun away from his hunter and made the first steps in what he thought was an escape.
He was wrong.
Tssschnkkktchchhhnnktcchh, it screeched. With a whoosh its speed returned and the thing moved in front of Jack, cutting him off only a few steps into his run.
It’s just that fast. This was his first thought. In his bewilderment, his mind could come up with no other conclusion. Nothing could move that fast, but his eyes were telling him this thing did.
There was only one thing Jack could do in the face of such a tormentor. As a temperamental and violent man, Jack held esteem in his ability to solve problems with his fists. His next course of action was brought on by his panicked fear combined with raw survival instinct: Fight.
It towered above Jack. He now put the figure’s height at around seven feet, but it had not been that large earlier. Had it grown? It stood looking down at him, unmoving, gazing at him through infinite darkness. He could now make out nearly the whole form of the monster, but felt fortunate to see its face was still clouded amongst the foggy darkness. That face was something he didn’t want to see—something he had to make go away.
Jack swung like he had never swung before, throwing his full body into the hay-maker aimed for the side of the thing’s head.
His furious hook was cut short by a vice grip with the stopping power of a brick wall.
With effortless precision, the creature grabbed a hold of Jack’s arm halfway between his wrist and his elbow. Jack felt the most horrible sensation on his skin as the dead hand (claw?) held him tight.
Jack’s skin was on fire, or was it freezing? It was the worst of both worlds in the creature’s grip. His skin was filled with awful sensations of discomfort, somehow too hot and too cold at the same time.
There was no dispute as to what was happening in the rest of his body however; he was freezing. The blood flowed warm from his heart but came back cold as ice.
It’s draining me of heat, it’s draining my blood of life.
Jack was paralyzed, he couldn’t even offer a struggle in the being’s mighty grasp. He was helpless to resist as the creature made its first devastating move.
SNAP! It sounded like the snapping of small tree branches, a sound Jack often encountered in his tree service job. He would habitually snap small bothersome branches out of the way so he wouldn’t have to pull out the chainsaw to deal with them, only the big branches really required that baby anyway. But this wasn’t a simple tree branch that had snapped.
It was his arm.
With the slightest turn of its wrist, the monstrosity had snapped Jack’s forearm in half. He felt a hot rush of pain and disorientation, his nerves screaming in protest as jagged ends of bone stabbed their way through his flesh.
Jack tried to fall but the monster held tight to his limb, now broken in two at the forearm. Jack was held up by tearing muscle, tendons, and skin. Blood squirted out of severed veins, spraying up and soon landing on Jack’s arm, dripping down the rest of it and leaving deep stains on his shirt.
Jack Handlan screamed a wet, pitiful scream into the fog, but it traveled only a handful of feet, heard only by his own ears.
Jack was crying. He hadn’t cried since he was a child, he hadn’t cried since his father had beaten him mercilessly for acting like a “goddamn sissy boy.” Tears poured down his face the dark figure leaned down, the terrible monster moving its face closer.
Jack turned his head away, like Kelly had done so many times over the years when she was facing a beating. How things had come full circle.
He cried out in disgust and fear at what came next.
It felt like a tentacle, but Jack recognized it as the creature’s tongue. It ran up and down his arm, near where it had been split in two, licking and lapping at his bloody wounds with rough strokes.
Tsssskkknnnnnchhhttch. The cry had the same emotionless tone as it did before, but Jack could sense something more: pleasure.
The licking stopped. A full minute of silence. Curiosity took over, and Jack turned his ead to look up and witness the monstrosity.
SWIPE. It was the same motion Jack had used when he had given Kelly the black eye, but the results were so much more devastating.
Jack’s head jolted backward as the monster’s claws tore through the flesh of his face. One claw grazed his eye and sunk into it, popping it instantly. Blood and fluid spilled onto his cheek as his eye-socket became a gelatinous mess, his eye resembling a half-eaten cherry.
The flesh on the left side of his face was torn away like wrapping paper. What remained dangled and flapped as blood gushed past the ruined flesh. Eyeball fluid poured down his face into the remains of his tattered cheek and into the hole where his left nostril had once been. Jack Handlan was the image of a living corpse.
Jack fell to his back and gurgled a low scream, choked and cut off as blood found its way into his mouth. Then it was over him, and with his one remaining eye he could see it fully for the first time.
He was too terrified to scream.
Jack felt a vice tightening around his heart, his sanity failing as he stared into the eyes of Death itself. The pain of his face was suddenly irrelevant—it was now second to the hell his eye revealed.
Then came the teeth.
More than Jack could perceive. They came out of nowhere, surrounding him like the fog itself. They ripped, tore, and tasted indiscriminately. Gnash. There went his fingers. Chomp. Chunks of his chest gone. Ripppp. His penis and testicles were consumed.
Jack Handlan had no time to scream, but an eternity to suffer as his body was eaten and his soul consumed. The only things he registered were absolute pain and suffering before his world abruptly faded to black.