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Kilt – Finale

“I kind of lost it after that,” Paul said, slowly, softly running is fingers along the gauze that covered the stump of where his arm used to be. For all he knew his fist was still clicking away on that trigger in the belly of that thing. “I can’t tell you how I got away. I can’t tell you how I got to the hospital. You know what I know.”

“How do you feel?” Doctor Kernz said, setting his pen on his pad and lowering his pad to his lap.

“I feel…,” Kilt concentrated on the gauze and how the sensation of his touch felt against quiver of his new reality.

“Mister Kilt?”

Nothing.

Doctor Tarden Kernz breathed a deep sigh and slowly packed his things. Before he left, he patted Paul Kilt on the shoulder and moved out into the hallway. As he stepped down the hall, he clicked the speed dial on his phone and began making the arrangements to have his patient transferred to Starkton and finished by the time he reached the nurse’s station.

“Excuse me,” he said pulling up to the counter, “Nurse Pike, right?”

Amanda turned, “Yes?”

“Paul Kilt. We’ll be moving him to Starkton tomorrow.”

“Did he tell you what happened?”

“He told me what he believes happened.”

“Is he sticking with the big dog story?”

“I can’t discuss the specifics,” Kernz said signing his name at the bottom of Kilt’s chart.

“Will he be all right?”

Kernz looked at the nurse. “I believe he will. We may never know what really happened, at least until he decides to tell us. Our job is to make sure we get him headed in the right direction. At least to the point where he is no longer a danger to himself…or others.” He politely slid the file back to the nurse across the short expanse of the counter. “The long and the short of it is, we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s really up to him. He needs to find his truth and the courage to face it. Have a good evening.”

He gave her half a smile as he stepped away from the desk and walked to the elevator. What a day.

———————

Epilogue:

Tarden Kernz pulled his car to a stop at the end of the long driveway the led up to his house.

He lived on the farther edge of Cardington, probably as far as one could get before stepping into Blakewood County. He liked it that way. He liked to be close enough to his work in case of emergencies, but he treasured at least the perception of distance his set up allowed. The country road, the long driveway, the fair amount of trees that bordered the small lake, or large pond depending on how you look at it, all provided the illusion of serenity, solitude and distance.

He sat in the car for a moment, both reviewing and purging the day from his mind so that the evening belonged to him. The only work he brought home was the Kilt case, and that was just so he could make some additions to his notes before he had them transcribed for the official file.

He shut down the engine, popped open the car door, then scooped up the file and stepped a foot out onto the tarmac all in one movement. A moment later, he was out and heading for the front door. Without him looking, his fingers worked to single out the door key from the rest.

He grabbed a scent of freshness from the trees carried by the small breeze that moved past him, another item of note to further solidify why moving out here was such a great idea.

As he slid the key into the lock and the pins of the mechanism found their place, the crack of a branch rose up to his ears. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear such a noise. Not out here with the woods and all still, while he paused for the briefest moment, nothing felt as if it needed further exploration.

As he turned the key, a deep, low rumble reached out to him. Not so much a purr, it was bigger than that. It was more like..a growl?

His hand stopped on the key. His gaze, trained a second ago on the the lock and his hand slowly drifted up the side of the door and leveled off. If he were in front of a mirror, he’d be looking at himself now. His breath caught. His heartbeat seemed to slow as it moved from his chest to his ears.

He couldn’t place the next sound he heard behind him. There was no point of reference, but he imagined. It was close. It seemed…big.

His chest started to rise and fall with a heavy sense of urgency with each new breath.

The hand that held the key let go and dropped to his side.

The rumbling growl drifted closer.

Closing his eyes, he drew one deep breath to try and calm himself. He even tried to tell himself it was nothing and that he was being stupid, but the rest of his body resisted the notion of comfort.

He opened his eyes and slowly turned.

If Tarden Kernz had the luxury of telling his story of what happened next from a room set inside the safety of a hospital as Paul Kilt did, he could have said, that before the reality of his situation blew every circuit of his thinking mind, he could recall what looked like a dark, empty cave of blackness opening up before him. It came at him with a speed he couldn’t have imagined and the edge of the cave was lined with…teeth.

If…

Instead, there was no story to tell. The bits and pieces that were left of the doctor lay in a pool of drying blood. The folder filled with the notes and documents that detailed Paul Kilt’s experience, his horror, dropped to the ground with a flutter the instant the doctor ceased to be. A breeze kicked up working to move the pages away from the carnage. They blew and scattered across the driveway and into the trees to be lost forever.

Kilt – Part V

“At least,” Paul said slowly and pausing to run over it all…yet again, “I think they were teeth.”

For the first time since starting his story, Kilt looked away from the thumb that had been rubbing across his fingers, now so vigorously that he could feel an element of heat from the tips.

“That’s the look I was waiting for,” he said, forcing Kernz to break the stare to look down at his notepad. “Not just teeth, of course. They weren’t just hanging there. They were attached you know.”

“To what?” Kernz asked.

Paul sat for a moment. “I don’t know. To be dead honest, I don’t know what I saw, because my mind can’t get around it.”

“Take your time. Let’s start with what you think you saw.”

Paul turned his attention back to his fingers, back and forth. He drew a half a breath and said, “Dinos….”

After the first part of the word came out soft and difficult to hear, the second half faded into a whisper. He coughed.

“Dinosaur,” he said louder and with a touch more of commitment. “I believe I saw a dinosaur.”

“Good work,” Kernz said, “Now we are making progress. What ki…”

“If you ask me what kind of dinosaur,” Kilt cut in, “I won’t be held responsible. I don’t know what kind of dinosaur! I’m not some kind of pale, paleon, paleo…whateverthehellitis! I can’t even say with one hundred percent certainty and conviction that it was a dinosaur. Maybe Starkton is where I belong! But you asked. You wanted to help! And this is the news. Whatever I saw, my brain registered it as a dinosaur. Apparently, I hit it with my truck as it was going wherever dinosaurs go here in Cardington when the skies and the earth decide to open up and take giant shit on us!”

“I understand Mr. Kilt,” the doctor said in a trained and calming voice. “Really, I do. Based on your injury, it is certainly more possible that something like a dinosaur could take your arm before something like a dog could. Please trust me. We will get to the bottom of this. Take a moment, then tell me what happened next.”

Paul tilted his head pulling in hard, but steady breaths, and staring down at his working fingers.

“I have a gun…in my glove compartment,” he started up again. “I keep a pretty good sized crowbar under my seat. My head was…pounding. I was gasping for air after having the wind knocked out of me and maybe half my senses. The mouth seemed huge, but all I could really see was the teeth. They looked long and sharp and dripped…dripped with what I can only imagine was a mix of rainwater and saliva.”

“Go on.”

“I tried to calm myself down. Tried to get my breath. The thing roared again. I’m not sure if I hurt it or it was just pissed at the rain, or that it was lost or…I don’t know, but as soon as I got a breath I found myself screaming right back at it. That was a mistake. I have to remember that. The yelling and screaming and roaring or whatever…that was all about it…whatever it was. If it heard me, when it heard me…when the roaring stopped…”

“Yes?”

“That’s when it turned it’s attention to me.”

——-

The moment the last bit of scream escaped him, the animal, the thing, tilted it’s head in a way that brought an enormous eye to bare.

“Oh, Shit.”

He certainly experienced moments of panic in his life, some that even moved his heart to his throat, but this…was new. A super-panic seized him as all life around him seemed to slow to a cinematic crawl. He lurched over the passenger seat and pawed at the glove compartment, but all movement seemed slow, and well below the expectancy set by the fire of urgency in his head. The compartment door popped open releasing a shower of useless things he kept in there for emergencies, hand sanitizer, an old map of historic Boston, well outdated mints and aspirin. Even in full panic mode, a voice in his head declared that if we all live after this, we are taking the time to re-evaluate our definition of emergency.

He heard the gun topple to the floor. The pushed away the bits and pieces that followed after it and jammed it into his coat pocket.

The giant head of the animal-thing swung quickly down towards him, the nose scraping along the edge of the roof where bits of what was left of the windshield hung on for dear life. A cloud of hot breath moved over him bringing with it the smell of rancid meat and deep earth. A heavy gag jumped into his throat causing his shoulders to heave as he worked to hold back whatever he had in him that was suddenly and vigorously looking for a way out. He reached his hand under the passenger seat feeling across the mat until his fingers landed on steel. They gripped tight around the crowbar as he pulled it out, making a mental note not to hook it on anything.

A low rumbling growl pulled itself from within the beast and into rain reaching Kilt’s ears and igniting a new fire of urgency. With a speed unimaginable for its size, the mouth poked into the hole left by the windshield. It had no room to do its work effectively, but the jaws, the teeth, snapped open and shut as it reached for what might be inside.

“No!” Kilt heard himself say, almost as if it came from outside of himself. “No!”

He flopped over onto his back and kicked out at the thing as a new wave of nausea poured into his stomach every time his boot found purchased on the leathery hide. It felt like kicking an old sofa, a hungry old sofa.

The head pulled back, but for only a moment to re-evaluate and adjust before bobbing down for another try.

With what room he had, Kilt swung the crowbar out in front of him connecting with one of the long bayonet-like teeth with a sickening crack. The connection was enough to force it back. A new and more inspired roar burst from the animal-thing above him. He shifted himself again as quickly as he could to work the door handle. After pushing with no success he shot his feet out again and again until the door swung open.

The next moment unraveled itself into existence with a slow and overly deliberate pace. An electrical charge of hope surge through the man as he saw the pathway to his escape before him, He heard each breath. Each heartbeat throbbed within him as he turned to look at the animal-thing. The thing looked back at him. Paul looked back at the open door.

Time to go.

 

 

 

Kilt – Part II

“Omahookamobie!”

Kilt jerked awake as he pulled away from a giant mouth dripping with long strands of gooey saliva and filled with long, razor-sharp knives hanging down like fangs that stood above him, poised to snap his head clean off. The movement stirred the slumbering pain in his arm, or what was left of it. And it was only after his darting eyes confirmed that he was out of danger, that he allowed himself to drop his sweaty head slowly back to his pillow.

A slight, soft tap worked its way through the door of his hospital room, not so much a request for an entrance, but rather a polite announcement that the door was opening.

“Yes?” he said.

The door swung wide even before he responded to allow the nurse access. “Good morning, Misteeer…,” she said, searching for the right name and never looking up from her chart. “…Kilt,” she said, almost surprised. “Mr. Kilt. Hello. Good morning. I’m glad you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

The dull throb that seemed to come from the place where his left hand should have been generated new, and probably less than appropriate responses to the question of how he was feeling. Like a man who will be really good at swimming in circles and so on.

“Fine,” was all that worked it’s way to the surface. “O.k. Where am I?”

“You don’t remember?” the nurse asked, looking at him for the first time.

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, I don’t blame you, what with the storm and the amount of blood you lost and all,” she said quickly bringing up her chart and flipping back the first pages. “It says here, you were admitted after falling unconscious to the floor in the emergency room. It says,” she held the s as she flipped a couple more pages, “substantial blood loss due to…,” The nurse slowly leveled the chart to look at him closely. Her glance moved evenly from Kilt’s face to his left shoulder and then to the well bandaged stump of his left arm, cut pretty much at the elbow.

“…dog bite,” she finished bringing her gaze back to his. “Dog bite?”

Kilt lay there breaking a sweat in the heat of her stare. ‘I guess so,” he muttered.

“If you say so Mister Kilt,” she started, breaking the cold surveying look and getting about her tasks. “But if you ask me, that had to be one hell of a dog. Unless, of course, you have always been shy one arm and he just caught the tip,” she paused. “Not to be indelicate to your situation.”

Kilt looked down at his arm and raised it up a bit, despite the staunch objections from the rest of his cells that were working to begin the repair work of his injury. “No, I can assure you that a bit over 24 hours ago, old lefty here was happy as a clam in jam and ready to do whatever needed getting done.”

The nurse, Amanda Pike according to her name tag, checked the bandage, then quickly and efficiently took his temperature and his blood pressure – from his right arm – as unobtrusively as possible.

“Well, Mister Kilt, I can only imagine what kind of animal you were dealing with and what you might have done to him to make him want to bite your forearm and hand clean off.”

“Wait,” he said with a smirk. “What I did? Look, I’m all good with animals. Really. I’m like freaking Doctor Doolittle when it comes to animals. But this, this was…” His voice trailed off before he let himself slip, before he heard him say the words, because then it would make it real. Right now he was happy with dog bite. Hell, even a big dog bite. He had lost a lot of blood. It could have all been a delusion, a big, giant silly manifestation of something that couldn’t be.

“Yeah?” nurse Pike asked. “Are you saying it wasn’t a dog? Because that’s what I suspect. Your arm there, the doctor said it looked it came clean off. What dog can do that? And if it was a dog, you need to tell somebody. Because you can’t have something like that roaming around out there.”

Kilt swallowed hard. He could barely bring himself to muster the thought, much less utter the word. He stared down at the very real injury, throbbing in pain on his left side. Jesus. He slowly shook his head, pressed his lips together to prevent anything from slipping out and drew a deep breath to try and calm the pounding he felt now both in his chest and in what was left of his arm.

Amanda stood next to him, waiting for his response, but as he drew his breath in, she realized this was the end of the conversation…for now. She wasn’t clear on why she had such a yearning to know what really happened out there. Storms always brought in the crazies, and last night’s storm was a doozie.

Instinctively, she reached down to pull up his sheet and blanket and smooth the ends over the edges of the bed. “Don’t worry Mister Kilt. You are safe here. Doctor Blakewood did a great job of fixing you up. Your job now is to get some rest and to start feeling better.” She flipped through the pages of his chart again. “It looks like you are due for another round of pain medication. I’ll be right back.” She turned and let herself out.

Kilt continued to stare down at the stark white bandages. The throbbing pain continued to keep time with his heart, a bit slower now than a moment before, now that the conversation had ended. What kind of dog indeed. He closed his eyes, trying to remember, but not as hard as his expression might allow someone to think. The rain. The lightning. The thunder.

His head twitched with each refreshed vision.

The large, angry eyes. And yes…the teeth.

His eyes shot open and he stared again at the door to his room. No, not a dog. No dogs allowed in this nightmare. But how could he say…

“…dinosaur.”

 

 

Boys – Part XIII

The beast stepped forward and leaned in on Taddy, forcing him to inch back further into Gunther, pushing him enough that it caused the other boy to moan. It’s skin was red and taught like Carlo Farinni’s The Burned Man from 1967, but this…creature was much bigger.

He moved his face close enough to the boy that Taddy could smell the foulness of its breath; a mixture of sour fish, bad milk, garbage and earth. And still, it was the eyes, that caused the boy the greatest amount of discomfort. Deep black and gleaming, yet hollow as if looking into a well where there was no way to tell where the bottom started, if there was one.

“Your friend is useless to me,” the beast said. “He lacks a certain…quality that I require for what I have in mind. He reached his hand forward and placed it on the boy’s head. “I need someone, with courage, someone with strength, someone with…spunk.”

The last word sprayed from the beast’s mouth and into his face causing him to flinch and making his stomach turn, even worse than the time Cody Trentwell spit on him just because he could. The hand on his head sent a trickle of energy through his body, making his skin tingle and his fingers flinch.

“I need someone, who is… ,” the beast continued as he searched and probed. “…healthy. And…you…will…do…nicely!”

The beast moved faster than Taddy could imagine. Before he knew what was going on, his head was clamped between two giant hands. The initial trickle of energy jumped to a sizable pulse that forced him to quiver and jerk. He bit down hard and his eyes rolled up into his head as the energy surge grew and grew.

Once again, the beast felt the energy exchange of the transformation rage through his entire being, albeit slower than before. He never had to initiate the transformation twice in such a short period of time before. And he was already diminished by the ones who came before. If this didn’t work, it would be eons before he would have the strength and the fortitude to try again.

Despite being slower, this new vessel was already proving to be superior, absorbing his energy like a rag soaking up blood.

Taddy twitched and jumped as the heat filled him. The sensation of burning from the inside out was too much. He wanted to scream. He needed to scream but the hands that held his head covered him almost so completely the he could barely move, but less scream. And still, the energy seemed to transform him. The beast before him seemed to diminish in some way. He felt as if he were almost growing…gaining strength against what was before him.

“Sooooon,” the voice of the beast purred, but not like he was speaking. Taddy felt the voice in his own head. His hands clenched as he tried to fight back from inside. A new pain sprung up from his back.

“AAAAAAAAAARRRRGH!”

The beast recoiled, as the flow of energy dropped. Taddy felt the grip on him loosen. Another sharp pain shot into his back. And yet another shot into his thigh and again into his back.

“You can’t have him!” a voice cried, part howl, part shriek. “You can’t have him! He’s broken! He’s BROKEN!”

The beast’s hands released Taddy as he fell backward along the ridge of hole in the backyard.

Taddy dropped to the ground and  onto his stomach. Shaking, Gunther slowly pulled the kitchen knife from Taddy’s back. The blood mixed with the rain that started to creep back into the beast once commanded.

Gunther sobbed as he let the knife fall to the ground. “He’s broken. He’s broken. He’s broken.”

The beast lay on the ground, breathing heavily, yet still clawing at the dirt reaching for the boys. Taddy was right. He was smaller. He looked frail and grey and old. He fought for inches with determination and rage. If he could not transform, then he would certainly take these two to where they would suffer…immeasurably.

Taddy rolled over in great pain to where Gunther sat. “C’mon,” he said grabbing onto his friend. “We gotta go.”

The two helped each other up wincing and groaning, but making progress.

The beast continued to scratch and claw.

Taddy tried to lead Gunther away, but with a renewed burst of energy, Gunther broke free and stood watching the beast.

With what was left of his energy, the beast lunged to grab the defiant boy, but fell short.

Gunther kicked out hard and caught the beast in the head, forcing him to tumble back into the hole from which he emerged.

The ground shook, forcing the boys to steady each other again. The orange-yellow light diminished as the crack sealed leaving little more than a puff of smoke to show it ever existed. And that was soon washed away by a fresh torrent of wind and rain.

– THE END –

Boys – Part XI

The nauseating sound of tearing sod, breaking rock and dripping mud rose up from the center of the backyard.
Beams of bright ogange-yellow light shot from the crack in the earth.

The rumble in the ground made it difficult for Taddy to stand. Using the house for balance, he forced himself up, but held close to the side as if standing on a cliff. As the crack expanded, more light reached into the darkness. It was a little easier to see,a s if his bad movie form before had been colorized. It was also, he gathered, easier to be seen. The minotaur thing stood at near attention behind the make-shift table where Gunther lay barely moving.

With his hands and back pressed against the siding, Taddy could feel the shaking in the ground slow, then fade, then stop. The falling rain, accented by a burst of wind were the only sounds now and that settled in for the moment as the new standard in calm.

He rose slowly, up from the crack in the earth and into the sweet air of the surface leaving the earthen stench of sweat and decay behind him. He breathed in slowly and deliberately, savoring not only this moment, but relishing the promise of what was to come.

The elements of the moment proved to be a minor distraction and with a wave of his hand, the wind and the rain no longer dare enter his arena of destiny. It still came down of course, all around him and with great determination, but where he stood and where he willed, nary a drop would fall. Not ideal, of course. Even moving the rain took extra energy, but with the next transformation so close, it seemed trivial not make the scene as pleasing as possible.

He looked around slowly to find most was to his liking. The Calligar stood at the ready having prepared the altar, haphazardly it seemed, yet functional to its purpose. He stepped closer. His breath caught for a moment at the sight of the new vessel, young, fresh, some would say innocent to the hard ways of the world, and most certainly, the underworld.

He leaned over the boy, raised a large eager hand and clumsily mopped away the residue of rain from the small face, careful enough not to cut the tender flesh with his razor edged nails. Placing his hands on either side of the boy’s head, he moved them in slowly, nearly engulfing the smaller human skull. And from that first touch, he felt the connection, a direct line created.

He threw his head back, taking in another full, fresh breath and released the push, the flow of his energy and his essence into his new mortal body.

The new pressure on Gunther’s head was like a hammer to the skull, igniting once more the splitting pain and fire, but there was something more. He had no words, but he grew hot, burning from the inside out as if he were being filled with lava. Boiling energy surged into him making it harder to breath or to move and yet when his eyes shot open, Gunther began to scream.

With the new light, Taddy watched the new beast rise up from the hole in the ground as if on a small elevator. He stretched hard, reaching full into the sky much like Taddy had seen his dad do after “watching the game” on a lazy Saturday afternoon. He watched it all unfurl before him, while he stood, pressed against the house, just a casual observer waiting for the next commercial.

In his head, a new mantra rose up to consume what was left of his processing power, “OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD…” He never really heard the words. The words weren’t meant to form a message. It was just habit tied to panic tied to disbelief that set off the whirring engine of noise.

Then he heard the scream.

Gunther’s voice, ripped and ragged with terror and pain cut through all the noise, leaving his mind vacant and white for one hot second. The next message came in clear as a bell, “Go!” Without another thought, he pulled the kitchen knife from his belt and tore off for the altar.

Boys – Part X

Taddy, in a full-out tear, slipped into the muck as he breached the corner of the house. As he went down, the lightning flare revealed the full figure of a beast he had only seen bits and pieces of so far. The flickering light held off the dark and the sheeting rain just long enough for him to see the thing drop Gunther, quite unceremoniously, to the ground. It pulled its head back and let out a roar that mixed with a crack of deafening thunder.

“Dammit.”

Lingering flashes of residual lightning made the scene across the lawn look like something from a grainy and poorly maintained monster movie. Taddy worked to keep the water from his eyes, squinting and wiping the pelting drops from his eyes as he willed himself to see deeper into the cheap looking animation that played out before him. Gunther rolled slowly to his side mere yards away as…that thing stood over him and howled.

The creature, reminded him of the giant minotaur from Stanley Kaldon’s 1956 classic, Labyrinth of the Damned. Big and ugly and likely surrounded by the smell of death.

The Calligar screamed into the dark thunder, calling his master. It’s head whipped to the left and right, its large black eyes searching for the right tools to make the offering. A large pole stood, stuck in the ground just behind him and next to a small table that would serve him well. It’s massive hands reached out and grabbed the pole, immediately pulling and shaking it free from the wet, muddy ground. He raised it over his head and then, holding it like a giant bat is his hands. He raised the pole a bit more before bringing it down fast and hard.

The pole came down so close to Gunther’s head that he could feel the wind it made followed by the earthy stench of the deep ground. He flinched raising both a dizzying fire in his head and a sharp breath catching pain in his chest. Broken rib flashed through his mind, quickly followed by broken ribs, every last one of them of them for all he knew. The monster stepped away and he tried to raise his head.

Without really knowing it Taddy slipped closer to the outside wall of his house and started inching along the foundation line trying to see and trying to stay hidden. If he could get to Gunther while that thing was distracted, they might make it out of this mess. As best as he could tell, Gunther was alive. He was moving a bit and he held onto that. The rain didn’t help but he was certain he could hear the other boy breathing. Well, wheezing anyhow.

The beast had forced the pole deep into the ground, much deeper than when he pulled it out. If Gunther stood up at tat moment it would probably rise up just above his head. The Calligar had stepped back to grab the flat surface which was, Gunther knew, the bulk of Taddy’s family’s backyard picnic table. He spun and raised the table up, setting the flat top of the table down onto the pole. He began lashing the two together with the ropes and wire he pulled off the nearby drying rack. Once he finished, he stepped back throwing another earth-shattering howl into the rainy sky.

The howl forced Taddy to pull into himself, covering his hears and hoping the sound of the rain covered any whimper his fear and surprise may have generated. A line from Souls on Mystery Island spoke to him, “I’d pay cash money on the dot, to get that thing to shut up.”

Underneath him, Gunther could feel the ground tremble ever so slightly beneath him. How sensitive he was, he wondered in the fog of his head. He didn’t know how the ground could be trembling, especially with all the rains coming down, still…he knew. And the very, very soft tremble began to grow, up into a full shake at least until…

The Calligar reached down and seized upon the legs of the little one. He dragged his prize through the dirt and raised him up before slapping him down upon the table contraption, the…altar, he created with the pole and the small table. Gunther landed hard, like the next cartoon fish in a monger’s shop. He whimpered and tried to recoil from the pain, but everything was pain, there no other way to respond.

Taddy noticed the ground shaking now. He pressed his hands against and into the wet grass to make sure. The shaking grew more intense and the sound of the shifting earth began to roar up canceling the voice of the rain. He looked from the ground back to the alter just in time to see the ground just below Gunther spilt open.

Boys – Part IX

Martin J. Gibbons, 57-year-old house painter.

Randall R. Stibbs, 49-year-old insurance agent and financial advisor.

Alison May Baker-Smith, 37-year-old soccer mom, mother of three.

Cody Timpkins, 28-year-old drummer for the up-and-coming rock band, Syzzle.

Andrew Taylor Corliss, 19-year-old trouble maker and doer of nothing whose friends once called Tack.

The list of recently missing, seemingly disconnected persons, grew slowly, almost deliberately. Each plucked from the burden of their every day struggles with the unknowing intent of serving as the vessel that would bring the dark master to the light of day.

Each one failing the task due to the weak and inadequate construction of the human animal.

He raised his hand before him and turned it slowly, deliberately. The once youthful skin of Andrew Taylor Corliss sat uncomfortably taught and bloated like a too small glove pulled over his fingers and palm. The skin, once smooth and dark, was now pale, dry and covered with liver spots and wrinkles.

He slowly clenched his hand into a fist and watched as the remnant flesh gave way to the pressure, popping and tearing and slowly peeling away as the fist flexed tighter and tighter.

He yearned to roam the lands above again to witness his work first hand, to drink in their tears and savor a symphony of screams. Still, for all that comes with unfathomable power, power in and of itself can be…restrictive. Yet, to effectively do his work among them, he must in essence be one of them. And so the process is what the case demands.

Such a frail species.

He loosened the grip and shook the hand away from him, flicking the last residue of young Corliss from him and toward the decaying pile of what was left of those who came before. A diminished skull from one Martin Gibbons, whose empty eyes stared through the pair of broken glasses resting in a cock-eyed fashion across a shriveled nose. He was strong and outdoorsy, but the process of transference puts so much strain on the human form, that the flesh ages at an accelerated rate. Martin Gibbons, at least the shell of Martin Gibbons, proved the least useful of all.

Mr. Stibbs suffered from an as yet to be diagnosed heart condition, substantially reducing his potential usefulness. Pity, he had a certain look that would have served him well, up there.

The woman was interesting, but again, the transference ravaged the mortal system. She just wore out too quickly for his needs.

Corliss showed promise, real promise. Yet perhaps, in his excitement in finally being able to reach the surface, he probably added more stress to his new form than he might have originally intended. At least until he was top side. The reflection of the once, some might say handsome and brooding young man, seemed to shift all too quickly to middle age and then to the more useless aged and decrepit, then to a pile of rot.

Failures all of them, but in each failure a lesson learned, an adjustment made and an extension of the possibilities that lie ahead. There are no real mistakes in this world, only curiosities…experiments. This time, he would go younger still. Perhaps a smaller and more resilient body would make the transference easier both on the vessel, and on him. So many transferences in such a relatively short period of time had a way of ‘running down the batteries’ as they might say on the crust.

He looked at his clenching fists. He had been charging is batteries long enough. It was time to really get some business done.