I ran as hard as I could, watching the flare disappear into the tree. I was so ecstatic I could vomit. Every muscle in my body screamed for relief, lungs burned, and feet ached. The desire to leave the damned island was the driving force behind my second wind. Hell would be far, far behind me very soon and I could not have been happier. I didn't care if anyone believed me or not, what would I even write about? I'd have to chalk up the experience as a failure. "No new revelations." That would make more sense than trying to write a paper about how Blackfield became an island of monsters and ghosts.
The gentle sound of waves lapping against the concrete loading pier was the sweetest of sounds, accompanied only by my shoes slapping hard against the road with each frenzied step. I slowed down, ready to raise my arms and wave at Harvey. It didn't matter that my lungs felt shriveled, or that my soles pulsated with dull, hot pain.
Slowly, I came to a complete halt. The adrenaline was already starting to wear off. I was on the ramp. Harvey was not. Only his boat. Hope rotted and twisted into despair within my chest as I whirled around frantically, calling the old fisherman's name with an increasingly worried tone. That's when my eyes fell upon the still-open door to the port authority office. Reasons for Harvey's absence began to materialize in my mind.
"Oh no," I whispered, my own voice raspy and weak, inching my way towards the open doorway.
It had only taken me ten minutes running at full steam to get from town to the docks. There were no immediate signs of a struggle, but as I brought my flashlight up to gaze into the building I nearly immediately saw the pulsating algae substance overtaking the area that had been the teenagers' camping spot. Crimson red nodes were scattered across its surface, and I felt them…staring at me. The things beneath the surface made the algae beast ripple and I could hear the soft moaning as a thick pseudopod reached out for me.
I leapt back, bringing the door slamming shut along with me. That would not hold, I knew. It couldn't. My attention was then drawn behind me, to the sound of rushing water. I turned just in time to see twisting horns rising out of the water, Harvey's boat in between them.
From the frozen water came the fleshless thing, its eyes bloodshot. Harvey's boat was stuck between its horns and I saw that the old trolling motor had been destroyed—bent nearly in half from the creature's horn.
Then came the sound of ripping flesh. A mouth was forming on the horned thing's face. Thick, viscous globules of its bloody pale flesh fell into the water with great splashes as its maw grew larger and larger, filled with thousands of tiny razor-sharp teeth, each of them caked with gore. A wide flat tongue, split into two halves flailed wildly within, and that's when I saw a familiar hat. Black and wide-brimmed. Bits of scalp still clinging to it, with clumps of black hair.
I reflexively inhaled deeply, my breath hissing through gritted teeth.
The first of the horned thing's massive legs clumped up onto the ramp but I didn't dare remove my eyes from its face. I felt a rush of air pull me towards it…it was inhaling. I turned to run just as it began to howl. It sounded like a dozen foghorns going off in my ears all at once. I slapped my hands over my ears, but it did little to help. The dirty windows of the port authority office exploded, sending a shower of glass over me. I did the only thing I could think to do: I fell to my knees and rolled up into a tight ball.
My face pressed hard into the cold, wet concrete of the pier. Fully expecting to die within seconds, my mind was briefly dragged away from the revelation by a rhythmic beating deep within the concrete. The horned thing's howl finally subsided and the beating grew louder. Death was no longer coming for me, so I slowly sat up, my vision blurry with tears. There was another explosion, this one of metal and glass. Over my head, the black algae leapt, moving far quicker than I had seen thus far. It slammed into the horned thing, which howled with unmistakable rage and pain.
The horned thing bit into the black algae and there was an audible crunch, followed by large gouts of black blood. I scrambled to my feet and got myself a good thirty yards away before giving in to the urge to stop and look back.
Watching these two creatures fight it out played hell on my psyche. Two impossible things tearing at one another with unbridled fury. Like something out of a movie, and I could not tear my eyes away from the scene. Nightmares clashed in a whirlwind melee of blood, flesh, and bone. Chunks of the black algae torn away by the horned thing's massive mouth, and I was finally able to see what was beneath the surface. Bones. Bleached white, non-human bones covered in a black tar substance. The algae went for the horned thing's torso, branches of it dancing along the pale yellow flesh like veins, causing blood to ooze up wherever it crept. They were consuming each other.
Better them than me.
I turned away and began my long walk back towards the town. The roars and cries of the battle behind me eventually faded into nothingness. Harvey was gone, and so was my hope of getting back to safety. Helplessness settled in with the fear. What could I do now but move forward? Answers to all of this were all I had to look forward to now. If I was lucky, maybe they would help me find a way home.
Darkness set in over Blackfield as I once again entered the city limits. The burnt out diner was to my right and I stopped to once again gaze into the open doorway. I felt a flash of burning pain in the backs of my eyes, which caused me to flinch and cover my face with my hands. I stumbled back and something bumped into me.
"Hey! You alright?" A voice called out to me.
I jerked my head up and saw that I was once again surrounded by greyness, and that a very large sedan was at my side. Inside it was a balding man, head gleaming in the sunlight, who was leaning out of the window and looking at me with one raise eyebrow.
"I, uh, I'm—," I began.
"S'a good thing I saw you stumbling around as I was coming up, might of hit ya going full speed otherwise. You don't look so good, if you don't mind me saying so." The sedan lurched and I heard gears change.
I held up a hand before he was halfway out, "I'm fine, really. Bit of a headache hit me all at once."
The man stopped, shrugged, and got back in his car. I heard the gears shift again. I took a few steps back onto the curb and gave the man a small wave as his ship-of-a-car coasted on down the roads. I watched until it went around a corner, then looked around to gauge my surroundings.
It was happening again. Visions of the past. Across the road stood the diner, fully intact and running. A couple was just leaving as a man in fishing gear stepped out of their way, tipping his hat to them before going inside himself. My eyes travelled upwards and there was the Blackfield Cantina sign in all its glory. A well-painted pig in a chef's hat holding a platter of what looked to be fried fish winked down at all who passed by. I couldn't shake the feeling that its other eye was staring right at me.
This time I made sure to look both ways before crossing the street. I felt out of place in my winter coat, with a backpack bouncing around my shoulders, but no one seemed to notice. Or maybe didn't care. Just as I was about to push through the doors into the cantina I saw, from the corner of my eye, a heavyset woman entering the post office a few buildings down.
Immediately my senses were barraged by the varying smells of the cantina. Frying fish, grilling meat. And the noise. The doors must have been soundproof because the cacophony of voices made me stop in my tracks. The Blackfield Cantina was filled to capacity. Two dozen tables were crowded with men and women hunching close to one another over half-eaten meals to talk. The bar was long, and a very shiny chrome, and filled with fishermen chattering over frosty mugs of beer. More than once, as I looked around, I thought I saw some people looking at me.
A woman wearing a short skirt and apron suddenly appeared in front of me. "Can I help you find a seat, hon?" she asked me in a sickly sweet voice, obviously practiced from years of having to deal with customers.
"Looks like, uh, you're all filled up." I responded, feeling very warm in my coat now.
If the waitress, who wore a tag naming her 'Phyllis', noticed my discomfort she didn't acknowledge it. "Oh, I think we have a few spots left at the bar," she said and motioned for me to follow.
I did so, winding through the narrow spaces between tables. She was right, stuck between two swarthy looking fellows was an open stool. Though I swore that it hadn't been there before, I sat as Phyllis extended her hand. She reached over my shoulder and slipped a menu into my hands.
"Gerry will be right with you in just oooone second." Phyllis winked at me, her painted lips curling up in the corners and sliding back ever-so-slightly to expose white, straight teeth. It made me want to run out of the place but I also felt stuck to the stool now.
I nodded once, trying to match her smile. I felt like I failed as Phyllis turned on her heels and waded back into the crowd. I turned to open the menu and noticed that neither man sitting beside me was looking up from his beer. In fact, it didn't look like either one was moving at all. I didn't say anything.
"What can I get ya?" came a deep voice and I looked up to see the bushy bearded Gerald Hardline across from me behind the bar. He was smiling, like Phyllis, and my calves began to itch.
"Hmm," I tore my eyes away from his face and looked down at the menu. I froze as I saw the typed words oozing down the pages like unsettled fresh ink. A melted caricature of the pig from the sign on the front of the building glared at me with a downturned mouth full of broken teeth, its chin drooping further and further towards the bottom of the menu the longer I stared.
Without warning the menu was jerked from my hands and my vision was once again filled with smiling Gerald Hardline. "How 'bout the special?" The man was well over six feet tall, and at least a hundred pounds heavier than me. To say I felt dwarfed at his presence would be an understatement.
Before I can say another word, he is gone behind the swinging door at the opposite end of the bar, moving quite unlike someone who was as heavy as he was. I am once again left alone, stuck between a pair of statues. The chatter of the cantina was never very clear to begin with but the longer I sit in the stool the more I begin to notice the noise blending together into a singular muttering of varying pitches. There is something accusatory about it that makes my palms sweat. I find myself cupping my hands together to keep them from shaking.
"Shoulda known better," said the fisherman to my right, and I noticed sea water slowly flowing out from beneath his wide brimmed hat, trickling down the sides of his face and into his plaid shirt and overalls.
"Than to come in here." Said the one to my left, looking at me with eyes covered in a grey-blue film. My terrified face reflected within them.
"Shouldn't have come to the island at all," Phyllis whispered into my ear, and a chill went down my spine. I didn't turn to look at her, but I could feel her gaze.
The murmur grew louder and black smoke began to pour from the bottom of the swinging door that lead to the kitchen.
"TOO LATE NOW!" came Gerald's howling voice from the back. "NOW YER GONNA BE JUST LIKE US!"
The kitchen door exploded off its hinges with a loud boom, the force sent me flying backwards off the stool. As I hit the floor I saw the dozens and dozens of faces of the patrons turned in my direction, and melting. Right off the bones. Then everything went black, save for a small fiery orange glow in the distance.
When the pain subsided, I pushed myself up on my elbows. I coughed, feeling soot and dirt in my mouth and caking my tongue. It did little to help. I needed water. I forced myself onto one knee, pain shooting up and down my spine, and swung my backpack onto the ground. I had it halfway unzipped when I heard the unmistakable sound of fire crackling.
An intense heat came upon me as I raised my head. Standing where the bar had been was an enormous, burning figure. Its shape was that of the cartoony pig mascot of the cantina. Only it wasn't so cartoony now. Its malformed head, too large for its neck, fell back and from its twisted maw came a high pitched squeal mixed with cries that could only be human. It was wearing the tattered remains of an apron stained with grease, and its one black eye glimmered in the fire, focused right on me. From its middle of its bulbous chest, out of the tattered and charred apron, emerged an all too familiar, bearded face.
Gerald Hardline, or a…simulacrum of him, anyway. White eyes bulged from a half crushed skull. A mouth of broken teeth worked up and down in silent horror. Flesh bubbled, sloughed away, reformed…repeating over and over again. The smell of burnt flesh, pork, and fish permeated the air.
My empty stomach heaved and crumpled in on itself, trying to eject content that wasn't there. I could only think of getting away. The pain had become secondary, dulled by adrenaline. I looked around frantically and soon realized I could no longer find the exit. The whole cantina had become a single, burnt and blackened room filled with the ruins of tables and chairs and human remains.
Another horrible squeal brought me back to the monster, who was now slowly lumbering towards me on melting pig feet. With each step it left behind burning clumps of flesh and sizzling fat. In one barely recognizable hand it held a large, jagged piece of plate. Its platter. It was stained a deep red around the broken razor edges.
The monster reeled back, raising its gory weapon. Its dripping head finally broke from the neck and went tumbling down its lumpy back, landing on the floor with a nauseous thump. Instantaneously it began to grow a new one, just as melted, just as perilously sitting upon unstable shoulders.
I screamed, unable to stop myself, and grabbed my backpack with one hand. Unfortunately I had neglected to close it, and as I yanked it towards my body, while leaping, one of my notebooks came flying out. "NO!" I shouted as it sailed into the wall to my left, sending loose papers and news clippings all over the floor.
The monster's weapon came crashing down where I had just been, fracturing the floor and sending slivers of wood flying in every direction. It followed through by stepping between me and my lost notebook. Panic not over the possibility of being cleaved in two but of losing my notes struck my heart and brain as well as any sharp object.
It swung again, and I managed to duck the wide arc and scramble back over some wreckage. The monster's fire flashed up, burning brighter. Its squeals and gurgling huffs grating against my ears. I tried to ignore the twisted Gerald face in its chest.
I picked up a chunk of what I figured to be wood and hucked it at the creature. It was all I could think to do. It sailed true, hitting the creature in the 'face.' It sunk into the malleable flesh, quickly becoming a part of it. It snorted at me, in what I sensed as amusement. By now the room was starting to fill with smoke, making it hard for me to breath. I pulled the collar of my shirt out from under my coat and up over my nose and mouth.
A great crack from up above was followed by falling wooden beams. I reflexively ducked as I snaked my way around charred debris. The pig-thing was slow, but I had nowhere else to run. Maybe I would get lucky and merely be crushed beneath the collapsing roof, instead of being burned alive or cut in half. In the meantime I was determined to get my notes back.
What's the point? A small voice whispered in the back of my mind. Gonna die anyway.
I pushed it away, clenching my teeth and focusing through the smog. A burning chunk of fat sailed by me, missing my face by less than a foot. The pig-thing growled and reached into itself for another shot.
I clamored over a particularly dusty pile of burnt tables, soot coating me from head to toe. My left hand missed the handhold I reached for, sending me tumbling down head over heels to the floor, ending with me sitting up on my ass. Another bit of fat sailed over my head, hitting the wall with a wet splat.
My notebook was only a few feet away now, so I took to my hands and knees and crawled forward as fast as I could. Slivers of wood stabbed my palms, dug themselves into my knees. The pig-thing was hobbling towards me now, on an intercept course. I found myself screaming, hand shooting out to the notebook.
The ceiling imploded, bathing the room in moonlight. The pig-thing raised its arms to shield itself from the bigger chunks of wood and concrete. I barely noticed, I had swooped upon my scattered stuff like a starving predator, gathering them back into a pile as quickly as I could so it could all be shoved back into my backpack.
I looked up just in time to see something small fall from the hole in the ceiling and sink into the pig-things exposed neck. Its single black eye rolled down to whatever it was and it made a high pitched squeal unlike what it had before.
It exploded. I curled up into a little ball.
"Get over here!" A voice drifted down from the hole, a small shadow appearing over the edge. Its eyes glowed strangely, a luminescent green.
As bits of the pig-thing rained down all around me, I managed to lift my head slightly to see the figure beckoning at me with one gloved hand. A rope dropped down and the figure shook it.
"Hurry, before it gets a chance to reform!"
I didn't need another word. I struggled to my feet and limped as fast as I could to the rope. "I don't think I can…" I called up.
"Just tie it around your waist, I'll get ya up!" the figure pulled back from the hole.
I did as I was told, faint doubt tingling in my brain. At this point I didn't care if I was moving out of a bad situation into another. I just wanted out.
With the rope secured, I called up, "O-Okay, I got it!" I was promptly yanked off my feet, which caused me to yelp in surprise. I managed a final peek at the floor as I sailed over the edge of the hole: the pig-thing was a lump of pulsating fire and pink flesh, I could see Gerald Hardline's face twisting in pain within it.