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Saturday, October 30, 2010

One of Four


As Zombiepalooza draws to a close, David McAfee offers  One of Four - a short horror story that has nothing to do with zombies. It's like the palette cleanser of Zombieaplooza, but it's still definitely horror. 

As you may recall from the giveaway earlier in the month, David McAfee is the author of 33 A.D. and Grubs, a novella that gave me nightmares. For more info about him or his books, please check out his site: mcafeeland.wordpress.com

One of Four - along with fifteen other stories - is included in McAfee's horror anthology, Pound of Flash. It also has bonus material from David Dalglish, Daniel Arenson, and Michael Crane.
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“You know who I am, Father.” It isn’t a question.

The priest looks at me, his youthful eyes brimming with idealistic forgiveness, and nods.

“I know who you claim to be,” he says as he steps past the nurse – a burly bitch named Swanson - and starts to close the door behind him.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Swanson says, holding up her left hand. She casts a meaningful glance at her missing ring finger. The scar is an angry red. “He’s a vicious old bastard.”

Her diamond ring had hurt like hell when it passed through my bowels, but the look on her face had been worth it. Maybe I wouldn’t do shit like that if they’d give me something to eat.

The priest ignores her missing finger. “He won’t harm me,” he says. “He can’t.” With that, he closes the door, while Swanson shakes her head and resumes her duties.

I can’t keep the snarl out of my voice. “Damn right I can’t.” I jerk forward in the bed, but the straps around my bare, sunken chest and arms hold me in place. I know it’s useless. I’ve been trying to break them for years now with nothing to show for it but raw, bleeding skin. They are too strong, especially in my pathetic state. They never feed me in this place, preferring to keep me weak and pliable.

He takes a seat by my bed, his soft white robe settles around him as though it’s made of air. On his finger a hefty gold ring winks in the dim light of my cell. I catch a faint whiff of cologne. I can’t place the brand, but it smells expensive. It probably is. The Catholic Church looks after its own.

I smile, revealing a mouth full of sharpened teeth. I had them filed to points long before the priest was even born. In my emaciated state, I must look like a fleshy skull smiling at him. He blanches, but doesn’t look away.

“They told me about those,” he says. “Do you think you frighten me?”

“Don’t I?”

He shakes his head, then reaches into a pouch at his side. He pulls out a vial of water and a rosary and sets them both on the nightstand. “Are you ready?”

I chuckle. A thick, wet gurgle. It’s all I can manage. “You can’t exorcise me, Father. I’m not a demon.” My belly growls. In the confines of the tiny room it sounds like an angry bear.

“We will see.” He pulls the stopper from the vial and begins to pray. I can’t understand a word of it. Must be Latin. He makes a motion with the vial that looks like a cross, then splashes the water on my face and chest. It’s cold, but that’s it. My skin doesn’t boil or blister, and I don’t scream.

He looks closer, his expression slightly puzzled. Then he reaches down and dips his finger into one of the drops on my chest, swirling it around in a circle.

“Careful, Father,” I say. My belly rumbles again, accentuating my warning.

His eyes shoot from my chest to my face, his disbelief plain to see. His finger raises off my flesh and hovers a few inches away. Almost close enough to bite, but not quite. He is probably thinking of Swanson’s scar.

“It’s true, then,” he whispers.

I nod. “But you already knew that.”

He looks at the vial in his hand. “I had to be sure.”

I nod again. “Of course.”

“We’ve been waiting for you.” His words are slow, deliberate. The fear that escaped him earlier now weighs heavily on every syllable. “How long do we have?”

I shake my head. “You should have come to me sooner.”

“We didn’t know.”

“Yes, you did.”

He closes his eyes and turns away, his face red. Maybe he didn’t know, but his colleagues did. They had plenty of time to fix things, and instead they went on as they always had. Only now, when it’s too late, do they think of me, locked away in their prison. Had they come to me sooner, I could have saved them. Any of my brethren could. But we waited. We wanted to see what they would do.

Now we know.

The earth begins to shake beneath us. His eyes snap open.

“Are the others here, already?” he asks.

“Not yet, but they are coming.”

He nods, tears sparkling in his eyes. He clutches his Bible and his rosary to his chest, and again begins praying in Latin. The only word I recognize is famēs, and only because it’s my name. A few moments later the roof of the building crashes down on him. The weight of the rubble snaps my bonds, and I am able to rise on shaky legs.

I leave the room and walk through the hallways, listening to the screams of people dying around me. Swanson is buried under a pile of debris. Her unblinking eyes stare up toward the ceiling.

The others are indeed coming, just as I told the priest. They have quite a distance to travel, of course. Currently, War is in the Middle East, Pestilence is in Africa, and Death...Death is everywhere.

I step out of the ruined building and look back just as the front, a huge brick and marble facade that sports a gleaming bronze Crucifix, tumbles to the earth. The Crucifix lands on a woman in a black and white habit, who sees me standing nearby and begs for mercy in Portuguese.

Too late, I remind myself.

I raise my thin, bony arms to the sky, waiting for instructions. They are not long in coming.

My name is Famine, and it’s time to go to work.

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