by Rick McQuiston
The dirty man coughed deeply,
spraying Hugh’s face with residual pieces of previous meals. If it hadn’t been for his Editor Hugh wouldn’t
be holed up in this filthy excuse for a house listening to the incoherent ramblings of a man whose showerhead hadn’t
had water through it in months.
But he knew he must follow
every lead on this story even if it was only some drugged up loser who was probably bumped off by some other drugged up loser
over drugs. He doubted there was any unseen force or ghosts or aliens. Eighteen years chasing the truth had given him a sixth
sense about certain things and he had spent quite a bit of time learning to recognize and utilize the additional sense.
And this story stank of lies
“So tell me, Mr. Shimes
is it? Tell me, the victim, was he really torn apart by an invisible…well, something unseen?” Pure nonsense.
The dirty man’s face
broke into an oily smile. A smile that reflected pride in knowing something, despite its horrible origins.
he drawled while wiping the drool from his mouth. “Shredded evenly on all sides he was.”
Hugh felt his curiosity equaling
his doubt despite trying to suppress it.
“When you say shredded,
what exactly do you mean?”
Again, more coughing but this
time flanked by sneezes.
“Jus what it sounds
like. Cut up, chewed right before our eyes. Me an five others seen it.”
Hugh felt himself grow lightheaded.
His eyes felt itchy and his throat began to burn. Great, he thought. Just what I need, the flu. The last time he had it, it
knocked him sideways. He was either in bed or on the toilet and neither was friendly.
“So you’re saying
something ate him?”
“Hear it as you want.
I can see the doubt in your eyes. You’re a man needs facts, evidence to sway your beliefs.”
Hugh sneezed. “Well,
I suppose you are correct,” he said in a defeated tone. “The public is not interested in myths or legends. They
want facts and truth, however grim they might be.” He felt a twinge of guilt for explaining himself to a hobo.
The dirty man rose from his
chair and straightened out his crooked neck.
Hugh winced as he heard the
man’s spinal column correct itself.
Grunting in satisfaction,
the dirty man rubbed his stubble and parted
his greasy hair.
“Sam was a friend of
mine. I met him a couple of years ago.”
“Was he into the occult
or any thing similar?” His handkerchief kissed his nose and he found himself looking down to make sure there was no
“Not that I know of,”
came the reply. “And I knew him pretty good I did. Would give ya the shirt off his back.” Then the dirty man paused
as a look of remembrance came across his worn face. “One thing though, he did complain bout not feeling good shortly
before he died.”
Hugh felt his body temperature
rise. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he became disoriented. A feeling of confusion overcame him forcing him to clear his
mind and focus on where he was and what he was doing.
with an impossibility,” the dirty man said with a smile. “Something that can’t possibly have happened…but
did.” His smile sported rotten teeth that were several shades of gray. “A man in your profession can only deal
with hard facts rooted in common sense. Well, they’re on the table. All you have to do is write about em.”
Hugh needed some air. The
dirty man’s house was suffocating him, that and the poor excuse for a man who lived there. Without another word, Hugh
stood up and made his way to the door. The handle was slick with layers of grime and dust; it slipped in his hand.
“Simply not believing
won’t protect you!”
Trying his best to ignore
his ramblings, Hugh increased his efforts to turn the door handle.
“The impossible stalks,
With a savage twist, Hugh
finally managed to open the door. He forced himself to think about his other leads, the coroner’s office, the dead man’s
relatives, and the detective in charge of the case.
The cool outside air soothed
his head and cleared his sinuses. He breathed it in deeply and watched the white mist dance around his face as he started
to walk to his car. He had aspirin in the glove box and he needed them badly, very badly.
He sneezed and coughed. Then
he sneezed again followed by several more coughs, each more painful than the one before.
That damn bum gave me something,
he thought coldly. The confusion was clouding his head and distorting his perception. He continued to stumble towards his
car, tripping over bushes and knocking over trashcans as he went.
“You okay there?”
It was the dirty man leaning over him, his rancid breath slapping Hugh in the face.
“Mister, you all right?”
he asked again.
Hugh opened his eyes and looked
up at the dirty man. He saw intense fear in his eyes, fear that reflected what was about to happen to him. The ring of teeth
detached themselves from Hugh’s mouth and spiraled upwards. Turning completely transparent they descended on their prey
with lightning quick speed.
* * * *
Hugh wondered why he had been
lying on the ground. He stood up, brushed himself off and pulled out his keys from his coat pocket. He started his car and
drove away never once noticing the shredded remains of the dirty man which were lumped on the sidewalk like a pile of garbage.
He lit a cigarette and rubbed
his jaw. His mouth was sore for some reason.
“Great, just what I
need now,” he thought. “A toothache.”