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Excerpt for The Last Big Thing by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


THE LAST BIG THING



Moody is as imaginative as Barker, as compulsory as King, and as addictive as Palahniuk.” —Scream the Horror Magazine


Moody has the power to make the most mundane and ordinary characters interesting and believable, and is reminiscent of Stephen King at his finest.” —Shadowlocked


In his evocation of fear and unease and the speed with which he grips you, he brings to mind old Brit horror writer James Herbert. And that is some recommendation.” —London Lite


Moody is an inarguably talented author... one of the best horror authors of the new decade.” ―Bloody-Disgusting.com


British horror at its absolute best.” —Starburst



THE LAST BIG THING

David Moody


Copyright © David Moody 2019


All Rights Reserved


The right of David Moody to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organisations and events portrayed are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


"BIG MAN" first published in "THE MONSTER'S CORNER" (St Martin's Griffin, 2011)

"THE LUCKY ONES" first published in "DEAD WATER" (Hersham Horror, 2014)

"OSTRICH" first published in "GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND" (Black Shuck Books, 2016)

"GRANDMA KELLY" first published in "666: THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST" (Point, 2006)

"NOLAN HIGGS IS OUT OF HIS DEPTH" first published in "THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS VOLUME THREE" (Sinister Horror Company, 2018)

"ALMOST FOREVER" first published in "THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR" (Mammoth Books, 2012)

"EVERYTHING AND NOTHING" first published in 2010 by Infected Books

"THE DEAL" "WE WERE SO YOUNG ONCE" "AWAY WITH THE FAIRIES" "THE LAST BIG THING" first published in 2019 by Infected Books


This collection published in 2019 by Infected Books at Smashwords


Edited by Wayne Simmons


For more information about David Moody, visit:

www.davidmoody.net


Cover design by Craig Paton

www.craigpaton.com


This book is available in print at most online retailers.



Smashwords Edition, Licence Notes


This ebook is licenced for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy.


Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


BIG MAN

THE DEAL

THE LUCKY ONES

OSTRICH

GRANDMA KELLY

WE WERE SO YOUNG ONCE

NOLAN HIGGS IS OUT OF HIS DEPTH

AWAY WITH THE FAIRIES

EVERYTHING AND NOTHING: a HATER story

ALMOST FOREVER

THE LAST BIG THING


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ALSO BY DAVID MOODY



BIG MAN


Big Man was written for The Monster’s Corner collection – stories told from the perspective of the character who’s usually the villain. That’s a theme which has fascinated me for a long time, and it’s something that’s central to the Hater series: one person’s terrorist might be someone else’s freedom fighter. It’s all down to perspective.

I was given carte blanche to pick any monster from any era, and I settled on a radioactive freak from a 1950s creature feature. I’m a sucker for a good (or bad) B movie, and The Amazing Colossal Man has always been one of my favourites. I always wondered what was going through the title character’s mind as he caused all that devastation? Was he really trying to destroy the world, or was he just misunderstood?

#

It was like something out of one of those old black and white B movies he used to watch avidly when he was a kid: the army spread out in a wide arc across the land to defend the city, lying in wait for “it” to attack. Major Hawkins used to love those flicks. Although the reality looked almost the same and the last few days certainly seemed to have followed a similar script, it felt completely different. This, he reminded himself, was real. This was war.

It wasn’t the Cold War US of the movies, it was mid-winter and he was positioned south-west of a rain-soaked Birmingham, almost slap bang in the centre of the United Kingdom. But the differences didn’t end there. He wasn’t an actor playing the part of a square-jawed hero, he was a trained soldier who had a job to do. And he was no rank-and-file trooper either. Today he was the highest-ranking officer out in the field or, to put it another way, the highest-ranking officer whose neck was on the line. His superiors were notably absent, watching the situation unfold on TV screens from the safety of bunker-bound leather chairs.

Roger Corman, Samuel Z Arkoff and the others had actually got a lot right in their quaint old movies. The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman... their monsters’ stories always followed a familiar path: an unexpected and unintentional genesis, the wanton death and destruction which inevitably followed, the brief and fruitless search for a solution... but there was another facet to this story which the movies always glossed over. Many people had died, crushed by the beast in his fits of unstoppable rage. Property had been destroyed, millions of pounds worth of damage caused already, perhaps even billions.

Today they weren’t about to face a stop-motion puppet or a stunt man in a rubber suit, this was a genuine, bona fide creature: a foul aberration which had once been human but which was now anything but; a hideous, deformed monstrosity which, unless it could be stopped, would keep growing and keep killing. The pressure on Hawkins’ shoulders was intense. The implications were utterly terrifying.

Glen Chambers – the poor bastard at the very centre of this unbelievable chain of events – had, until a few days ago, been an anonymous nobody: a father of one, known only to his family, his handful of friends and his work colleagues. Hawkins could have passed him in the street a hundred times before and not given him a second glance. But now he had to forget that this monster had once been a man, and instead focus on the carnage the creature was responsible for. No one could be expected to remain sane through the torturous ordeal Chambers had endured, and it could even be argued that he was as innocent as any of his victims, but the undisputable fact remained: regardless of intent or blame, the beast had to be stopped at all costs.

Major Hawkins had first become involved after the initial attack at the clinic. The people there had done what they could to help Chambers, keeping him sedated and under observation while they searched for a way to reverse the effects of the accident and stop his body growing and distorting. And how had he repaid their kindness and concern? By killing more than thirty innocent people in a wild frenzy and reducing the entire facility to rubble. And then the cowardly bastard had gone into hiding until there were no longer any buildings big enough for him to hide inside.

The attack on Shrewsbury had ratcheted up the seriousness of the situation to another level, the sheer amount of damage and the number of needless deaths making it clear that destroying the freak quickly was of the upmost importance. This was a threat the likes of which had never been experienced before. Countless men, women and children had been needlessly massacred, their bodies crushed. The streets of the quaint market town had been filled with rubble and blood.

The Chambers creature had attacked without provocation, decimating Shrewsbury’s historic buildings and killing hundreds of innocent bystanders. And when little remained of the place, it moved on and the destruction and bloodshed continued. They’d tracked the beast halfway across the country, following the trail of devastation left in its wake. The foul monstrosity had spared nothing and no one. Even livestock grazing in farmers’ fields hadn’t escaped. Hundreds of dismembered animal corpses lay scattered for miles around, many half-eaten.

But what was it doing now?

The creature, for all its incredible (and still increasing) size, had somehow managed to disappear. They knew it was close, but its exact location remained a mystery for now. There was no need to hunt it out; Hawkins was certain it would run out of places to hide and would have no option but to reveal itself eventually, and when it did his troops would be ready. They’d be resorting to Corman/Arkoff tactics to try and kill the creature: hitting it with everything they’d got, and firing until they’d either run out of missiles or the monster had been blown to hell and back. And then, if the dust settled and the hideous thing still managed to crawl out of the smoke and haze unscathed, they’d have to call in the big boys. A nuclear strike was an absolute last resort, but Hawkins knew the powers-that-be would sanction it if they had to (after all, it was less of a big deal from where they were sitting in their bunkers). Tens of thousands would die, maybe hundreds of thousands, but if the creature couldn’t be stopped, what was the alternative? No one would be safe anywhere. In less than a week Glen Chambers had gone from a faceless nobody to being the greatest single threat to the survival of the human race. A hate-fuelled destroyer.

Major Hawkins distracted himself from worst-case-scenario thoughts of having to use battlefield nuclear weapons by recalling other B movie clichés, trying to find an alternative solution to the crisis. He almost laughed out loud when he considered the ridiculous and yet faintly possible notion that this thing might do a “King Kong” on him and head for higher ground. Imagine that, he thought, his mind swapping bi-planes and the Empire State Building for a squadron of Harrier jet fighters and the Blackpool tower...

‘Sir!’

‘What is it, McIver?’ Hawkins asked quickly, concerned the young officer had caught him daydreaming.

‘We’ve found it.’

#

The thing which had been Glen Chambers crouched in the shadows of the cave, shivering with cold, sobbing to himself as he hid from the rest of the world. He hurt, every stretched nerve and elongated muscle in his body aching with the pain of his ongoing mutation. He’d squashed his huge, still growing bulk into a space which was becoming tighter by the hour and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d have to move. It was inevitable, but he wanted to stay here for as long as he was able. There had been helicopters flying around just now. They probably already knew where he was.

Earlier, just before he’d found this cave, he’d stopped to drink from a lake and had caught sight of his reflection in the water. What he’d seen staring back at him had been both heart-breaking and terrifying. In the movies, giants like him were just perfectly scaled up versions of normal people. Not him. Since the accident every part of his body had been constantly increasing in mass, but at wildly different rates. His skull was swollen and heavy now, almost the size of a small car, one eye twice the size of the other, bigger than a dinner plate. Clumps of hair had fallen out while other strands had grown lank and long and tough as wire. Glen had punched the water to make his grotesque reflection disappear, then had held up his fist and stared at it in disbelief; a distended, tumorous mass with a thumb twice the length of any of his fingers. And his skin! He hated more than anything what was happening to his skin. Its pigmentation remained, but it had become thick and coarse, almost elephantine, and the bulges of his massive body were now covered in sweat-filled folds and creases of flesh. The only thing, to his chagrin, which still seemed to function as it always had was his brain. It was ironic: physically he’d become something else entirely – unspeakably horrific – but inside he was still Glen. Horrifically deformed and impossibly sized, he now bore only the faintest physical similarity to the person he’d been just a few days ago and yet, emotionally, very little had changed. Same memories. Same attachments. Same pain.

Glen’s vast stomach howled with hunger. He ate almost continually, but such was the speed of his rapid growth that his body was never completely satisfied. He reached down and with one hand picked up a sheep he’d killed, then bit it in half and forced himself to chew down, gagging on the bone and blood and wool in his mouth.

His arched back was beginning to press against the roof of the cave. Time to go before he became trapped. He crawled out into the afternoon rain and crouched there motionless. I don’t want to move, he thought, because when I move, people die. None of this is my fault, but I’m the one they’ll blame.

If there is a god, please let him bring an end to this nightmare.

#

Glen strode through the darkness on unsteady feet, feeling neither the cold nor the rain as he pushed on through the fields around the Malvern Hills. He’d spent a lot of time here before, good times before the bad with his ex-wife Della and her father, and being here again was unexpectedly painful. His stomach screamed for more food and he caught a bolting horse between his hands, snapping its neck with a flick of the wrist, then biting down and taking a chunk out of its muscled body. He hated the destruction he continued to cause, but what else could he do? And it was only going to get worse.

The effort of lifting his bulk and keeping moving was increasing and, for a while, he stopped and sat on the ground and rested against the side of British Camp, the largest of the hills, relieved that, for a short time at least, he wasn’t the largest thing visible. The size of the hill allowed him to feel temporarily small and insignificant again.

Why had this happened to him?

Much as he’d tried to forget, he still vividly remembered every detail of the accident – the piercing light and those screaming, high-pitched radiation alarm sirens, then the disorientation when he’d first woken up in the clinic. It was like he’d been trapped in one of those old Quatermass movies his dad used to watch. But in those films the guy being quarantined had always been a hero – an astronaut or genius scientist – not anyone like him. He just cleaned the damn labs, for Christ’s sake. He wasn’t one of the scientists, he just worked for them.

They’d kept him pumped full of drugs for a time, trying to suppress the metamorphosis, studying him from a distance through windows and from behind one-way mirrors, none of them daring get too close. But there had come a time when the medicines and anaesthetics no longer had any effect and then the pain had been unbearable. He realized he’d outgrown the hospital bed and had crushed it under his massively increased weight. He was more than twice his normal size already, filling the room, and he’d become claustrophobic and had panicked. He wanted to ask to see his son, Ash, but his mouth suddenly didn’t work the way it used to and words were hard to form. He tried to get up but there wasn’t enough room to stand, and when he tried to open the window blinds and look out he instead punched his clumsy hand through the glass. The people behind the mirrors started screaming at him to stop and lie still, but that just made him even more afraid. He shoved at an outside wall until it collapsed, then scrambled out through the hole he’d made. He stood there in the early morning light, completely naked, almost four metres tall, and he fell when he first tried to run on legs of suddenly unequal length. They blocked his way with trucks, and he thought they were going to hurt him. He’d only wanted to move them out of his way but he’d overreacted and had killed several of the security men, not yet appreciating the disproportionate strength of his distended frame, popping their skulls like bubble-wrap.

He’d taken shelter in a derelict warehouse for a while as it was the only place he’d found large enough to hide inside. He lay on the floor, coiled around the inside of the building, and for a time he sat and listened to a homeless guy who, out of his mind with drink and drugs, had thought Glen was a hallucination. Now Glen leaned back against the hillside, crushing trees like twigs behind him, and remembered their one-sided conversation (he’d only been able to listen, not speak). Like the blind man in that old Frankenstein film, the drunk hadn’t judged him or run from him in fear, but by the morning he was dead, crushed by Glen, who’d doubled in size in his sleep. Woken by the sounds of the warehouse being surrounded, he’d destroyed the building trying to escape and had literally stepped over the small military force which had been posted there to flush him out and recapture him. In the confusion of gunfire and brick-dust he stumbled away towards the town of Shrewsbury, another place he’d known well, avoiding the roads and following the meandering route of the River Severn across the land.

Christ, he bitterly regretted reaching that beautiful, historic place, and his swollen, racing heart sank when he remembered what had happened there. Still not used to his inordinate rate of growth (would he ever get used to it?) and the constantly changing dimensions of his disfigured body, he’d stumbled about like a drunk, every massive footstep causing more and more damage. He’d crashed into ancient buildings, demolishing them as he’d tried to avoid cars and pedestrians, unintentionally obliterating the places he’d known and loved with Della and Ash. He’d killed innocent people too as he tried to get away from the town to avoid causing more devastation, and their screams of terror had hurt more than anything else. He’d never intended for any of this to happen, but the final straw had been when he’d lifted his foot to step over what remained of a partially demolished row of houses and had seen a child’s pram squashed flat on the pavement where he’d been standing. Had he killed the baby? He didn’t wait to find out. Instead he loped off as quickly as he was able, his ears ringing with the sounds of mayhem he’d caused.

In the shadows of the hills, Glen lifted his heavy head towards the early evening sky and sobbed, the noise filling the air like thunder. With every hour I am becoming less a man and more a monster, he thought to himself. I may not have long. If I’m going to do this, I have to do it now.

#

They’d assumed he’d try and come back to this place eventually, that he’d want Della and the rest of her family to suffer as he had. It was the ideal location from which an attack could be launched on the creature – out in the middle of nowhere, away from centres of population – and a squadron of Hawkins’ men had been deployed to take the monster out. They took up arms as the aberration’s vast, lumbering shape appeared on the darkening horizon, still recognizably that of a man, but only just. Orders were screamed down the chain of command and a barrage of gunfire was launched as it approached. Bullets and mortars just bounced off its scaly skin, barely having any impact at all. Incensed, the creature destroyed many of its attackers and marched on, leaving the dead and dying scattered across the land.

And then, as the last rays of evening sunlight trickled across the world below him, it found what it had been looking for: Della’s father’s house. The beast strode towards the isolated building, ignoring the last few scurrying, ant-like men and women attacking and retreating under its feet. It swung a massive, clumsy hand at the waist-high roof of the house, brushing the slates, joists and supports away with a casual disregard, peering in through the dust and early evening gloom. And when it saw that the top floor was empty, it simply ripped that away too, taking the building apart layer by layer, kneeling on the roadside (crushing another eight men) and looking down into the building like it was a petulant child tearing apart a doll’s house, looking for a lost toy.

#

They weren’t there. The house was empty.

Disconsolate, Glen stood up and kicked what was left of the building away, watching the debris scatter for more than a mile.

Way below him, a final few soldiers regrouped and launched another attack. They were the very least of his concerns now; irritating and unfortunate, nothing more. In temper he bent down and swept them away with a single swipe of his arm, then turned and marched onwards, immediately regretting their deaths but knowing he’d had no choice.

This was all Della’s fault. If it hadn’t been for her he’d never have been in this desperate position. Did she even realize that? Did she know she was to blame? Surely she must have had some inkling? If it hadn’t been for them splitting up and making him sell the house, this would never have happened. If she’d just talked to him sooner, let him know how she was feeling, let him know how unhappy she was... She said he should have guessed, that she’d tried to tell him enough times, but what did she think he was, a bloody psychic?

It was Della’s fault it had all gone wrong, and jumping into bed with her bloody therapist had been the final nail in the coffin, the full-stop at the end of the very last sentence of their relationship. But Glen accepted it had been his own bloody foolish pride which had subsequently exacerbated the situation. He’d wanted to do everything he possibly could to support his son, but when Cresswell earned more money in a month than he did in a year, he realized he’d made a rod for his own back. His pig-headed solution was to work harder and harder, to the point where money became his focus, not Ash. It wasn’t Glen’s fault he hadn’t been blessed with the brains Anthony Cresswell had, or that he hadn’t been fortunate enough to share the same privileged, silver spoon upbringing as the man who’d taken his place in Della’s bed. Ash didn’t even like him, he knew that for a fact. He told me himself.

Glen had been desperate to prove his worth and not let his son down, and that was why he’d agreed to take part in the trial (that and an undeniable desire to bulk himself up and become physically more of a man than he ever had been before – he’d certainly achieved that now). It was perfectly safe and legal, they’d told him as he signed the consent forms, a controlled trial of a new muscle-building compound for athletes. All the top performers will be using it this time next year, they’d said: twice the effect, a quarter the cost, completely undetectable and absolutely no risk... Maybe they’d been right about that, because he’d been taking it for a while and other than the weight gain and a little occasional morning nausea, there hadn’t been any noticeable side-effects. It had almost certainly been the radiation from the accident which had caused the change – either that or a combination of the two. But even the accident had been Della’s fault in part. If she hadn’t got the courts involved and been so anal about the times he was supposed to pick Ash up and drop him back, then he wouldn’t have been rushing to get his work finished on time, and he wouldn’t have left the safety off when he was supposed to—

A sudden, piercing whoosh and a sharp stabbing pain interrupted his thoughts as a mortar wedged itself in a fold of leathery skin halfway down his bare back, then detonated. Glen howled with pain, his rumbling screams filling the air for miles around, shattering windows and causing panic.

Concentrate, he ordered himself, standing up as straight as he could and stretching back over his shoulder with an elongated arm, flicking away the remains of the missile with overgrown nails. Several more explosions echoed around his head – blasts which would have killed him before but which were now almost insignificant. He spiralled around, sweeping more military personel out of the way with one arm as if he was clearing them off a table, then he moved forward into the brief pocket of space and marched on. What do I do now? He tried to remember what happened next in the movies. Was this the point where they’d drop a nuke or something equally final on him? Try and gas him, perhaps? Should he just give up now or maybe head out into the sea and disappear like Godzilla? He wished an even bigger monster would appear on the horizon: his own Mothra or King Ghidorah, perhaps. He could fight them and defeat them and save the world and let Ash see that his daddy wasn’t a freakish, evil creature now, that he was just misunderstood. He tried to imagine the fatherly monologue that fucker Cresswell might deliver to Ash tonight: ‘Your father was once a good man, but good people sometimes turn bad, and he had to be destroyed...’

In the distance up ahead now lay the city of Birmingham – a grey scar covered in thousands of twinkling lights, buried deep in the midst of oceans of green – and he began to walk towards it, breaking into a lolloping, sloping run as he gradually picked up speed, his heart thumping too fast.

Home. I have to try and get home.

The city, he quickly decided, was his safest option – perhaps his only remaining option. Surrounded by millions of people, the military wouldn’t dare risk using weapons of mass destruction on him there, and those same people would become hostages by default. His presence alone would be enough of a threat to force the authorities to do what he wanted.

#

The beast tore across the land, leaving a trail of deep, dinosaur-sized footsteps. In its shadow people scattered in fear, running for cover but knowing that nowhere was safe anymore. Distances which took them hours to cover could be cleared in minutes by the towering grotesque which loomed over all of them. And as it neared Birmingham and the density of the population around it increased, so did the level of carnage the creature caused. Knowing that the city was clearly a target, the authorities did everything they could to evacuate the panicking masses but getting away was impossible. In no time at all every major road was gridlocked, and the monster simply kicked its way through the unmoving traffic without a flicker of concern. It destroyed a reservoir in a fit of rage, stamping on a dam and flooding a heavily populated residential area. A hospital was demolished when the beast tripped and fell, hundreds of patients and staff killed in a heartbeat. Scores of schools, homes and other buildings were obliterated; untold numbers of people wiped out by the remorseless, blood-crazed behemoth.

They had managed to clear a section of the city centre but only partially. There were still people around, some fleeing in terror, others unaware of the approaching threat, just heading home from work. In a last-ditch attempt to divert the creature, Major Hawkins launched an aerial attack.

The first fighter planes raced towards their target and fired, their munitions barely even registering on the monster’s calloused skin. More through luck than judgement, it flashed an enormous hand at one of the planes and caught its wing with the tips of its longest two fingers, sending it into a sudden, spiralling free fall from which it would never recover. The pilot ejected – too small for the behemoth to see or care about – and as his parachute opened, he drifted down behind the horrific man-monster, studying the stretches and folds and impossible angles of the abomination as he fell from the sky.

Several other jets met with a similar fate, as did a tank which was unwittingly crushed under the monster’s foot like an empty can of drink. It continued towards the centre of the city, marching between massive office-blocks, at eye-level with their high roofs, knocking one of them over like it was made of Lego. How many people were still in there, Hawkins wondered from a distance. How many more are going to die?

An iconic shopping centre was destroyed in seconds, rubble raining down over the suburbs, severed electrical connections and small explosions lighting up the scene like camera flashes. A historic cathedral which had proudly stood for hundreds of years was wiped out in the blink of an eye. The destruction was apparently without end.

Hawkins readied himself to make the call he’d been dreading and consign the monster, the city and hundreds of thousands of people to a white-hot, nuclear fate. His mouth dry and his pulse racing, he watched the beast in the distance. Hawkins’s soldiers stood their ground, nervously waiting for orders to engage despite knowing how ineffective their weapons would be. Some turned and ran, desperate to get away before either the aberration attacked them or they were wiped out by whatever godawful weapons the powers-that-be were forced to resort to using.

Hawkins paused when the creature’s ex-wife burst into his command truck and demanded to speak to him. She argued the scientists and generals had failed to come up with anything useful, so he should hear her out before he did anything he’d regret. Goddammit, he thought as he listened to her, this was like the final scenes of one of those bloody B movies he couldn’t get out of his head. ‘Let me see him,’ she’d pleaded. ‘Maybe he’ll still listen to me? Please just let me try.’

What harm could it do when so much had already been lost? It had to be worth a try. The intensity of the aberration’s attacks was increasing, more lives being lost with every second. Hawkins options had reduced to zero.

#

Glen didn’t know which way to turn. Where do I go now? He was still deep in the heart of the city and, to his horror, had levelled much of it. If he bent down and squinted into the confusion in the ruined streets below he could see the full extent of the damage he’d caused. He’d taken out a loan for a car six months ago so he could see Ash, and it had taken every spare penny he’d had. Today he’d destroyed thousands of vehicles – all of them belonging to someone like him. He’d demolished homes like the one he’d once shared with Della and Ash. And worst of all were the bodies. He hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone. How would he have felt if this had happened to someone else and Ash had been killed in the fallout? Glen lifted his head and roared with pain, the volume of his pitiful cry shattering the last few remaining windows and causing more badly damaged buildings to collapse.

Let this be over.

My body hurts.

Please let this stop.

#

Surrounded by soldiers, Della walked through the parkland. Cresswell chased after her, dragging Ash behind him. The kid’s tears were audible even over the sounds of fighting.

‘You can’t do this,’ Cresswell protested. ‘This is madness. Della, listen to me!’

No, Anthony, you listen to me,’ she said, turning back to face him. ‘If there’s anything of Glen left inside that thing, then I need to talk to him.’

‘I won’t let you.’

‘You can’t stop me.’

She turned and walked on, her armed guard forming a protective bubble around her, leading her out towards the expanse of grassland they were trying to direct the creature towards. She could see his outline in the distance now, a huge black shadow towering over the tombstone ruins of the city. High overhead a phalanx of helicopters flew out towards the monster in formation, each of them focusing a searchlight on the ground below. She waited nervously for them to return, wrapping her arms around herself to keep out the cold.

#

It happened with surprising speed and ease. The creature seemed to be distracted by the helicopters, and it immediately moved towards them, perhaps realizing that, as they hadn’t attacked, their intentions were peaceful. Della’s heart began to thump in time with its massive footsteps as it neared, and she caught her breath when it seemed to lose its footing for a moment. It lashed out and swatted one of the choppers like it was a nuisance fly, knocking it into its nearest neighbour and sending both of them spiralling to the ground in a ball-shaped mass of metal and swollen flame. How many people died just then, she wondered? How many more died when the wreckage hit the ground? How many people has Glen killed?

The aberration lumbered ever closer, clearly in view now, illuminated by the remaining helicopters which soared higher until they were beyond its massive reach. Della looked up at it in disbelief, stunned by its size and also by the fact that despite the huge level of deformation, she could still clearly see that it was Glen. Its enormous frame was grossly misshapen, but there was something about the shape of its mouth and the way it held its head that she recognized; the jaw line that both he and Ash had, the colour of those eyes...

When the creature saw the soldiers around its feet, it leaned down and roared. Della thought it sounded like a cry for help rather than an attacking scream, but the military clearly thought otherwise. One of the troopers nearest to her raised his rifle, and the monster picked him up between two enormous fingers and tossed him away. She watched the body fly through the air and hit a tree, then cringed when she heard a sharp cracking sound which was either the tree trunk or the soldier’s bones. The monster roared again, this time with such force that she was blown off her feet. Another soldier rushed to help her up. She got to her feet and shook him off, then ran out towards the behemoth.

‘Glen!’ she yelled. ‘Glen, it’s me, Della.’

The aberration went to swipe her out of the way but stopped. It crouched precariously, lowered is huge head and stared at her. Then, after a pause of a few seconds which felt like forever, it crashed down onto its backside, the force of impact like an earthquake. Della’s armed guard held back, more out of fear than anything else.

‘I just want to know why, Glen,’ Della said, still walking closer, not sure whether the thing could hear or understand her. ‘All those people killed, and for what? I know you must have been scared, in pain even, but why...?’

The monster stared at her, eyes squinting, trying to focus, massive pupils dilating and constricting. Then it lifted its head to the skies and roared louder than ever.

A single figure ran through the trees. Cresswell raced towards Della and grabbed her. ‘Come with me,’ he said, trying to drag her away. ‘That’s not Glen any more. Damn thing can’t understand you. Stay here and it’ll kill you. You’ve got Ash and me to think about and—’

He stopped talking when he realized the gigantic creature was looking straight at him, glowering down. He backed away, cowering in fear, but there was no escape. A single massive hand wrapped around him and tightened, its grip so strong that every scrap of oxygen was forced from his body. The monster lifted him up and held its arm back as if it was about to throw the doctor into the distance.

‘Dad! Dad, don’t!’

#

Glen stopped.

Had he imagined Ash’s voice? He pulled his distended arm back again, ready to hurl Cresswell out of his life forever. Out of all of their lives...

‘No Dad, please.’

Glen looked down and saw his son standing in front of him, and suddenly nothing else mattered. He stretched out and dropped Cresswell more than half a kilometre away, far enough away not to have to think about him, then carefully moved Della and the remaining soldiers out of the way too.

Ash stood in front of his dad, completely alone and looking impossibly small.

Hello, big man,’ Glen wanted to say but couldn’t. ‘I’m sorry, Ash, I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

‘You okay, Dad?’

Not really,’ he didn’t say as he gently picked his son up and held him up to his face. Ash sat down cross-legged on the palm of his father’s hand.

‘I’ve been really worried about you.’

Me too, Ash.

They’ve been saying all kinds of things about you,’ Ash said, pausing to choose his next words carefully. Glen’s heart seemed to pause too. ‘But I don’t believe them. I mean, I know you are a monster now, anyone can see that, but I know you didn’t want to be one. I don’t think you wanted to hurt any of them. I kept trying to tell the man that you didn’t mean for any of it to happen. I told him to try and imagine how you must be feeling. You’re big and strong and everything, but I bet you’re scared.’

I am.

‘I said they should leave you alone. I said they should find you somewhere safe to rest, maybe build you the biggest house in the world, something like that, then let the doctors work out how they’re going to get you back to normal again.’

I don’t think that’s going to happen, sunshine. I think it’s too late now.

‘I miss you, Dad. I’ve been really scared.’

I’ve missed you too.

‘They said you were coming back here to kill everyone, and I told them that was rubbish. I said you were coming to see me. Was I right, Dad?’

You were right, son. I just wanted to see you again. Just one last time...’

#

Glen Chambers sat in the park with his son in his hand and he listened to Ash talking until his massively engorged, broken heart could no longer keep him alive.




THE DEAL


I have no idea where this horrible, seedy little story came from. Every now and then you get a germ of an idea that implants itself into your brain and won’t go anywhere until it’s finished. That’s what happened with The Deal. It started as a what if, and became something I didn’t expect at all.

#

I must be out of my mind. I never thought it would come to this. I mean, I knew I was in trouble, that I had to do something, but this is like something out of one of those shitty made-for-TV crime movies. I’m seven floors up in an otherwise empty high-rise that’ll be rubble less than a month from now, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.

The waiting is endless. All this space and silence gives me too much time to think.

This isn’t fair. It’s not my fault, it’s just how I am. It’s all about perspective, that’s what I keep telling myself. What turns one person on might repulse another. You can’t choose your kink, but by God I wish you could. Maybe then I’d have found something that wasn’t such a taboo, something that wasn’t so likely to get me locked up. If she hadn’t found out what I like then I wouldn’t be in this fucking mess right now, she wouldn’t have any hold over me and I could have just kicked her out. And what pisses me off most of all is the fact that she’s been sleeping her way through the male population of the city for the last few years and no one gives a damn. She’s the one who cheated on me.

I’ve done nothing. I don’t hurt anyone. I keep myself to myself. I just look at pictures.

I tell myself I’m a frigging idiot and I should get out of this place before it’s too late, but I’m out of time. He’s here. I hear footsteps right behind me.

I smell him before I see him.

I go to turn around, but he reaches out a hand lightning fast and grabs the back of my neck, stopping me from moving. ‘Don’t look at me,’ he hisses. ‘Don’t you fucking look at me. You don’t need to see who I am. Understand?’

I whimper. I fucking whimper. A fifty-two-year-old man whimpering like a fucking baby. It’s pathetic, but I do what he says. I don’t argue and I don’t turn around.

Why am I putting myself through this?

I should have just walked away when she found out, should have thrown in the towel and admitted defeat. I could have gone to Thailand or somewhere like that... could have disappeared. But now it’s too late because he’s here and contact has been made. I try to look at his reflection in the cracked window but he’s directly behind me and I see nothing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. I can smell him, hear him, feel him, but I can’t bloody see him.

And Jesus Christ, he smells so bad. It’s a grubby, unwashed stench: booze and bad breath and frequent whiffs of worse things... he makes me want to heave. I swallow down bile and try to compose myself. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I just—’

‘I don’t want your apologies,’ he says, his mouth against my ear, ‘I just want you to do exactly what I say. Follow my rules and I’ll do your job for you, screw up and you’re on your own. It’s that simple.’

‘I understand.’

‘You’d better. The fact we’re having this conversation at all tells me you’re already in a shit-load of trouble. Pissing me off is only going to make things far worse.’

I keep telling myself to stay calm, but all I want to do is turn and run from this vile bastard and not look back. I’ll go to the house, grab some things then disappear into the night like I should have when she first found out. But I know I can’t. It’s too late now. He won’t let me. He’s a killer. A hitman. Christ, it even sounds stupid, like something out of a third-rate crime novel. Is this really worth the risk? Does Moira deserve to die? That’s debatable, but she’s backed me into a corner and taken away all my other options. If she tells anyone what she knows about the things I like to do, my life’s as good as over. I’ve heard what they do to people like me in prison.

‘So who is it?’ he asks.

‘My wife.’

‘You don’t say. Now there’s a surprise. Been cheating on you, has she?’

‘Pretty much constantly for the last ten years, but that’s not the problem.’

‘I didn’t think it would be. So why get in touch with me now? Tell me the full story.’

‘Why do you need to know?’

‘Because I need to be sure you’re serious. I need to know you’re as desperate as you seem. This is a risk for both of us. I need to know you’ve got as much at stake as I have, as much to lose.’

‘Believe me, I have. She... she knows things about me.’

‘What kind of things?’

‘Things I’ve done.’

‘Business deals?’

‘No, more personal than that. The kind of things I like...’

It’s hard talking about this stuff – about my acquired tastes – even when I’m on my own in the house, chatting online with like-minded people. Tonight, though, it’s nigh on impossible. When I don’t immediately give him an answer, he starts taking random pot-shots. ‘I’m guessing it’s either kids or animals,’ he says wearily. ‘It’s usually one or the other. Sometimes both.’

‘Both?’

‘Don’t sound so righteous. You’re in no position to judge.’

‘She’s got evidence...’ I start to explain, telling him as little as possible, neither confirming or denying.

‘And if that evidence was to come out...’

‘I’d be screwed.’

‘Job gone, house gone, wife gone, cash gone, freedom gone. Straight to the slammer for you, you dirty little pervert.’

‘That’s about it.’

‘So why haven’t you just done a runner?’

‘What, and leave her with everything? Do you have any idea what I’m worth?’

‘I do, actually. I knew money would come into this somewhere, it usually does. It’s the root of all evil, you know.’

‘Is that right?’

He just laughs, and finally relaxes his grip on the back of my neck. ‘Okay, okay... I get the picture. I know where you’re coming from. Perversion’s in the eye of the beholder, I say. One man’s meat is another man’s murder, and all that bullshit.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Well, friend,’ he says, his sudden unexpected and unwelcome familiarity making my skin crawl, ‘you’re in good company. We’re both in the same boat, to a certain extent. If people knew how I get my thrills they wouldn’t be too happy.’

‘And why’s that?’

‘Doesn’t take a genius to work it out, does it? Let’s just say I enjoy my work. Probably a little more than I should do.’

Shit, is he into necrophilia? Will he want to have sex with Moira after he’s killed her? I almost laugh out loud at the prospect of that. Good luck to him. Who am I to judge? For all I know, my particular quirks might still rank higher up the deviance league table than his. Is screwing a corpse more socially acceptable than—

‘Okay,’ he says, derailing my bizarre train of thought, ‘here’s the deal.’ The tone of his voice has changed again. This is deadly serious. He means business. ‘Fact is I get off on killing. Can’t tell you why or how it started, but that’s how it is. There’s something about doing someone in that drives me fucking wild. This is more of a hobby than a job for me, so I’m more than happy to help you out with your little problem. Now I’ve made a few enquiries and I know a fair bit about you and your situation and, even more importantly, I know you know nothing about me. I know you can afford my fee and I know you wouldn’t be here unless you didn’t have any other option, so all you need to do is agree to my terms and we’ll get the ball rolling.’

‘Your terms?’ I ask, my throat dry and my voice barely audible. ‘I thought I was just supposed to pay you in cash. I didn’t know there were terms and conditions.’

‘There are always terms and conditions,’ he says, then he pauses ominously. ‘Bit embarrassing, really,’ he explains, sounding sheepish now, like I’ve caught him playing with himself. ‘I have superstitions. I’m a little bit OCD, I think.’

‘Superstitions?’

‘Just a couple. Nothing too weird in the overall scheme of things.’

‘Go on.’

‘I only kill when I’m specifically asked to.’

‘Okay.’

‘And I only kill in pairs.’

All I hear is his second point. ‘You only kill in pairs?’

Alarm bells are ringing again. Fucker’s going to kill me too once he’s got rid of Moira. I try to make a run for it but he anticipates and, anyway, he’s far faster and far stronger than me. He shoves me up against the dirty glass and now I can’t move.

‘It’s really not what you’re thinking. I don’t like odd numbers. If you ask me to do a job, you have to ask me to kill two people.’

‘But there’s no one else I want dead.’

‘You don’t have to name them, you prick, just tell me to do it. Look, I’m sorry, but this is just how it is. Some people can’t stop messing with light switches or washing their hands, others won’t step on the cracks in the pavement. Me, I get freaked out when I’ve killed an odd number of people. It’s two or none, that’s the rule.’

‘You’re talking about me, aren’t you? Makes sense – take me out and there’s less chance of anyone linking back to you. Forget it. Deal’s off. This is bullshit. I should have—’

‘Calm down and take it easy, sunshine,’ he says, leaning up against me, his face too close for comfort, suffocating me with his halitosis. ‘I’ve really got to come up with a better way of selling this to clients,’ he mumbles to himself. ‘Look, it won’t be you, right? I’ll find the second victim for myself, I just need your permission to kill them, okay?’

‘My permission?’

‘Just tell me I can do it,’ he yells, getting frustrated. His sudden anger makes my bladder weaken. ‘All you need to know is it’ll be someone you don’t know. Someone you’ve never had any connection with. Someone who doesn’t mean anything to you...’

‘But I don’t understand.’

He shoves me against the window again, my face pressed so hard against the cold glass I think it’s going to give.

‘It turns me on, okay? We all have our little quirks, don’t we? Some littler than others, if you know what I’m saying. Well this is mine. You want one killing, but you have to order me to do two. Buy one, get one free. There’ll be no repercussions for you, I swear. You won’t know anything about it. Your only link to the killing will be me, and believe me, I’m not about to go public. I’ve got as much to lose as you have, probably more.’

He eases off, releases the pressure, steps away.

‘I don’t know about this...’

‘You still married?’ he asks.

‘Just about.’

‘Is she insured? You still paying the premiums? I’ll make it look like an accident. You could come out of this with a profit.’

‘Everyone’s a winner.’

‘Everyone but your missus,’ he says ominously. Then he becomes quiet. Too quiet. ‘Oh, and I forgot to say, I only kill on Mondays, that okay?’

‘What? You’re taking the piss...’

‘You got me!’ he laughs, filling this ruin of a place with his foul noise. ‘Just kidding. Look, pal, I know this is a big deal for you. I expect you’ve never been involved in anything like this before and chances are you won’t ever be again. Your life must be a real fucking mess because when people call for me, I know they’ve hit absolute rock bottom. I understand. I get it, I really do. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I know what you’re going through, so I’m gonna make this easy on you. I’m leaving now. If you want, you can do the same and you’ll never hear from me again. But if you decide you do want my help, come back to this place before the weekend and leave me a sign.’

‘What kind of sign?’

‘I don’t know, use your imagination. Write something on the walls. Leave the cash here, too.’

I’m in a no-win situation. My options feel like they’re reducing by the second. I can either trust this sick bastard – and I’ve never felt like trusting anyone less – or I can hope Moira keeps her mouth shut, but we both know that’s not going to happen. Which is the lesser of these two evils? I stare out into the night through the grubby window and try to make sense of the chaotic thoughts filling my head.

‘Okay,’ I tell him. ‘I’ll be back before the weekend.’

He doesn’t answer. I turn around to look for him but the sly fucker’s already long gone, disappeared into the darkness.

#

Fuck it, I need a drink. I stop at a bar on the way home, trying to work out what the hell I should do. I could always just disappear, I tell myself again for about the hundredth time tonight. Maybe I could fake my own death? Neither option is definite enough. There’s always a chance I’ll be found, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my days constantly looking over my shoulder. I’ve been doing enough of that as it is.

I want Moira dead. That much is certain. I don’t trust her and I can’t pay her off. I need her gone.

There are too many people in this bar. It’s packed and I find myself looking from face to face to face, staring at each of them, hoping I won’t see anyone I recognise or that anyone recognises me. I don’t, of course, and that makes me feel a little better. I’ve never been here before, probably won’t come here again, and for a few precious minutes I’m anonymous; innocent and free. I’m right in the middle of everything that’s happening but strangely disconnected from it all.

See that woman on her own over there? Who is she? Why’s she here? Why’s she on her own? Is she waiting for someone? Has she been stood up? Does she live alone? Is there anyone waiting for her at home tonight? If she never made it back, would anyone notice? Is she the one the hitman’s going to kill if I ask him to do the job? Should I even give a shit? If she knew what got me into the mess I’m in, she’d be disgusted, but who’s to say any of the other fuckers in here are any better? Who knows what goes on behind closed doors. There are tattooed freaks in here, others who look like alcoholics and addicts. In this bar there could be rapists, gang bosses, traffickers, perverts who make me look like an angel... in comparison to this lot, I’m not hurting anyone.

All I do is look at pictures on a screen.

#

The bitch has got me by the balls. She’s turfed me out of the house now and she says she’s going to the police. I know she’ll do it soon if I don’t take control of the situation. I’ll give her her due, sometimes Moira’s business sense is almost as good as mine. She’s biding her time, waiting for the right moment to strike and make the optimum profit. She’s doing everything to maximise the damage and get the most out of me she can before my inevitable fall from grace.

I need to stop this.

I need to take action.

I went back to the ruined high-rise this afternoon, straight from the solicitor’s office. The bitch really got to me today, really got under my skin. I made myself do it while I was still angry, before I’d had a chance to calm down and talk myself out of it. I climbed the stairs back up to the seventh floor, left the cash where he told me, then spray painted a message on the wall that no fucker could miss.

#

Nothing.

Two weeks waiting. Two weeks of silence from him and non-stop grief from her.

I’d managed to convince myself that I’d been fucked over again, either that the hitman was someone Moira had paid to set me up, or that the meeting had never happened in the first place. Had it just been a deluded, drink-fuelled fantasy? I was on the verge of giving in when everything changed.

I was starting to think I should just pay her off and damn the consequences. I’d agree to the divorce and all her terms and if she still went to the police, I’d decided I’d go kicking and screaming. I’d tell them she knew everything. I’d tell them she helped me feed my various unsavoury habits and implicate her somehow. But all that’s academic now, because everything changed today.

He’s done it. She’s dead.

A police officer knocked on the door an hour or so ago, and if I hadn’t been so numb with panic I’d have probably tried to make a run for it. I thought he’d come for me, that she’d told them everything, but I could tell from the way he approached me – submissive body language, voice low – that wasn’t the reason he was here. He asked if he could have a word, that he was sorry but he had some terrible news, and when he asked me to sit down it was all I could do not to jump up and punch the air. I knew what was coming next. The hardest part was pretending I gave a shit. I just sat there, head bowed, looking down at the carpet, biting my lip to stop myself grinning.

‘How?’ was the only question I could ask.

‘The investigation’s still on-going,’ he explained, running through the usual disclaimers, ‘but on the face of it, it looks like it was a tragic accident. It’s going to take a while to piece things together, but it seems her car got stuck on a level crossing. There was no one else about. Seems your wife was trying to get it moved when the train hit. If it’s any consolation, she died instantly...’


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