Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Choice Cuts

by Wayne Summers


Lorraine Parker hovered over the kitchen sink with her back to the lounge room. Her reflection in the window showed a plain, middle-aged woman with her dry, brown hair piled on top of her head in a haphazard bun and held in place with a chopstick she’d purloined from the Golden Pagoda Chinese restaurant. Her body was slim, more or less straight up and down, thanks to her having no hips and a chest like two cherries on an ironing board. Her expression was serious.

While her husband, Stan, ate his dinner in front of the television, Lorraine liked to sit at the kitchen table and peruse the evening newspaper while enjoying a cigarette. This invariably meant she had a lot to say when it came time to do the dishes. She’d stand there, as she was now, scrubbing dirty plates and talking, mostly to herself, about whatever headline had got her gander up most .

Stan had given up listening many years ago.

“Life!” she began, still imagining that Stan might one day join her in something approaching an intellectual conversation. “This is bloody life?! This is drudgery; earning enough money to afford just a small slice of happiness.”

She’d just read an article on the proliferation of computer games and electronic entertainment.

“Every day these big multi-nationals push their latest gadgets onto the market and by the time the average Joe can afford them, they’re obsolete. This isn’t living. This is distraction.”

Broad-shouldered, beer-bellied and balding, Stan usually let his wife’s monologues from the kitchen sink wash over him while he did his best to concentrate on the television news.

Kill her!

The voice came from out of nowhere and made Stan jump. It was as if whoever had said it was standing right next to him, and not in his head. His heart skipped a beat and for a moment he was breathless.

“What did ya say?” he called out in a bid to distract himself.

“I said it’s all just an endless cycle of work and bills. We’re fodder. We help other people get rich.”

Stan groaned.

Kill her!

Stan heard the voice more clearly only it was more like a combination of voices. He thought he was going mad. Finally, it had happened – she’d driven him to the loony bin.

Lorraine sighed and let her hands fall limply into the warm, foamy dishwater. The dirty water felt good, soothing. She gazed through the window, into the dark night, and let her mind go blank. A tear formed in her eye, welled up and spilled over onto a lightly wrinkled cheek. It tickled as it slithered down the loose skin and dropped off the edge of her jaw.

“This isn’t how I saw my life,” she whispered to herself. She took a deep breath, swallowed her tears and recommenced washing the dishes. “And your butcher’s shop!”

Stan rolled his eyes.

“What are ya on about now?” he barked, frowning at the television.

“How many times have I told you that you need to do something different to get your customers back? The ones that new bloody supermarket has stolen. You can’t hope to match their prices so you’re gonna have to give them something they can’t get there!”

Kill her! You have to kill her!

Between the voices in his head and Lorraine’s constant nagging Stan felt about ready to explode. There was a throbbing in his temples and suddenly he became aware that he was grinding his back teeth. He crushed the empty beer can in his fist and flung the crumpled ball of aluminium to the floor.

“Are you listening to me, Stan? You need to get off that fat arse and do something!”

Hear that? She hates you. Kill her now.

She was right. He did have to do something. After two and half decades of marriage it was definitely time to do something.

That night as his wife slept, sprawled out on her back, mouth open and snoring, Stan crept into the bedroom with a large brass statuette of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ clenched firmly in his right hand.

Kill her now. Before she wakes. Kill the bitch!

He raised his arm high into the air as he looked upon his sleeping wife. He had stopped loving her years ago. She was nothing to him now. Her complaining, her criticising and the humiliating way she talked down to him had turned his heart to ice. Kill her! He’d worked hard for them both to have a better life, but nothing was ever good enough for her. Kill her! He would not miss her. Kill her!

The statuette hit Lorraine’s head with a dull thud. She moaned and her eyes opened slowly, but before they caught the silhouette of her husband standing beside her, he’d brought the statuette down again, smashing it into her face. Bits of skin and hair which had become temporarily glued to the brass ornament flew off as he continued to pummel the front of her face. He split an eyeball, which popped inaudibly; the thick jelly inside oozing out into the cavity he had created in her skull. She was unrecognisable, just a body with a bloody mess above its neck.

Stan grunted as he continued to smash the bone and brain into the pillow, stopping only when he was too exhausted to continue. He staggered back from the bed and surveyed the results of his work as he wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. He raised an eyebrow and then walked calmly into the en suite bathroom and rinsed the statuette clean. He dried it on his wife’s towel then went into the kitchen to clean it properly with Brasso. When he was satisfied that ‘David’ was as clean as he could humanly get it, he replaced it in the cabinet beside the television and returned to the kitchen. Taking a small hacksaw that Lorraine used for cutting through sheep bones, he strolled calmly back into the bedroom and set about dismembering the woman he’d been married to for twenty-five years.

The voices had fallen silent.

With hands skilled in the art of butchery, Stan worked on his wife’s body until she was no more than a pile of flesh and meat and bone on the bed. Thanks to years of smoking Lorraine’s body was thin and lean; the hacksaw cut through her limbs like a knife through a tender steak. Finally, with a grunt and a singlet soaked through with sweat, he severed the final limb, sawing it in half so it would fit into the green garbage bags he had on the floor beside him.

The red LCD numbers on the bedside clock showed eleven o’clock. There was only a faint sliver of moon in the sky and his neighbours had long since been in bed, but just to make sure Stan stepped out onto the lawn of his front garden and checked. Every house was dark. Except his. In the distance a dog began to bark, though it settled soon after. The street was once again bathed in silence and shadows, and Stan could commence hauling the thick green garbage bags out to his station wagon, parked in the driveway.

It wasn’t unusual for Stan to be unlocking the door to his butcher’s shop so late at night; occasionally he left things behind. Sometimes he went in just to escape Lorraine and her constant nagging. He’d go in and make up a tray of sausages or slice up some steaks, anything to get out of the house. Why should that night be any different?

Stan lugged each garbage bag into his shop, half lifting and half dragging them. It was strange, but as he opened the door to the walk-in freezer and slid one bag after the other onto the bottom rack at the back of the freezer, he felt no differently than if the bags had contained sides of beef. There was a calmness about him that struck him as being odd. He wondered why he didn’t feel guilty about what he had done.

With the body safely stashed in his butcher’s shop freezer Stan returned home. As he entered the bedroom he sighed. There was blood everywhere. It was going to take him at least a couple of hours to clean it all up, but it was a task that had to be done. Setting to work, he threw his wife’s pillow onto the dwindling open fire in the lounge room, pushing and prodding it into the dying embers until the whole thing burst into flames. He then fed one sheet after the other into the fire knowing that no one would be awake to see the sudden cloud of smoke pouring from the chimney or smell the biting odour of burning polyester and feathers.

He shoved the blanket into the laundry sink and turned the tap on. Then taking a bottle of bleach from the shelf where Lorraine kept it, he poured the contents over the woollen blanket and let it soak. Later he’d wash it then put it in the dryer. By morning it would be as good as new.

But the mattress was another matter. The blood had soaked deep into the padding. With plenty of cold, soapy water and elbow grease, Stan scrubbed the surface fabric like a dynamo, sponging off the pink foam and saturating the padding at the same time. For almost an hour he worked on the stain until finally it was no more than a large, pinkish-red mark which at a glance could easily have been a wine stain. Finally, satisfied with the result, he stood the mattress up. When it had dried he would turn it upside down on the bed and continue to use it until he could be bothered buying a new one.

After his exertion, Stan went into the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea. He added the usual two heaped teaspoons of sugar and a splash of milk then sat down at the table. ‘How quiet everything is,’ he thought to himself as he sipped the steaming, sugary tea. Only the tick-tock of the ten dollar clock Lorraine had bought at the markets disturbed the silence. It was peaceful. A feeling of complete calmness settled over him and for a few seconds he felt suspended in time; complete bliss. He felt the tension in his shoulders drain away and melt into the night. He felt surreal.

Early the next morning the sun rose over the oak trees in Elmsford Park. It shone brilliantly in a blue spring sky to greet the band of early morning joggers and dog walkers who were making their way around the two ornamental lakes at the very heart of the park. The dew was still glistening on the grass and a small covey of ducks waddled through the leaf litter, scrounging for succulent worms. Children all over the leafy suburb were being ushered out of front doors by flustered parents on their way to work. Everyone was going about their business as usual.

Except Stan.

The drama of the previous night had left him exhausted and for the first time in many years he had slept in. Three blocks away Mrs Tonkins, seventy-three years old and a stickler for punctuality, glanced at her wristwatch.

“Tsk!Tsk!”

“Good morning Mrs Tonkins,” came a cheery hello from behind her.

It was Val, the woman who ran the video store next door to Stan’s butcher shop.

“What are you doing standing out here?” Val asked.

Mrs Tonkins clicked her teeth and shook her head.

“He’s late, isn’t he?” she replied, annoyance stamped clearly on every croaky syllable.

“Who is?”
“Him. In there.”

Val furrowed her brow.

“There must be something wrong at home then,” Val explained as she stepped over to the door and tried it for herself. “He’s never been late in all the time I’ve known him.”

“No, I suppose you’re right there, dear.”

“Well maybe you should come into the video store and wait for him there. I can find you a nice comfy chair and you watch a video.”

Val was a woman for whom the Sixties had never quite ended. She still wore her bleached-blonde hair teased to within an inch of its life and moulded into a giant beehive perched on the top of her head. Her blue eyes were permanently ringed with kohl, sometimes with flicks and sometimes without. Luckily she had retained her figure, despite being forty-eight and having had two children, so she could just about get away with wearing the skin-tight ski pants and the brightly coloured twin-sets she loved so much.

She ushered Mrs Tonkins into her store, gave her a seat in front of one of the televisions and slipped a copy of “Fried Green Tomatoes” into the shop video player. Mrs Tonkins, who wasn’t sure what was about to happen, relaxed and waited for something to appear on the screen in front of her.

Stan arrived at the butcher’s shop an hour and a half later. By that time Mrs Tonkins had grown bored with the video and had gone to get her meat at the new supermarket further down the road. And she hadn’t been the only one. Business was slow all morning. Ordinarily the lack of customers would have concerned Stan, but the extra free time provided him with an ideal opportunity to dispose of his wife’s body.

After thawing and de-boning Lorrain’s arms, he placed the flesh into a vat of cranberry juice and left them to marinate. When they were done, he fed the meat through a mincer, added some aromatic herbs then fed the mixture into some sausage skins. The result was more than Stan could have hoped for. Stacked on a tray and garnished with parsley, his new ‘Pork and Cranberry’ sausages looked perfectly delicious.

Happy with his work on Lorraine’s arms, Stan returned to the freezer and removed her torso. He dropped it onto the wooden chopping block and with a keen blade he sliced through the flesh, opening her chest cavity and removing her organs. He would mince those up later and sell them as dog food, as he would her bones.

Soon the smell of human flesh was filling the room, wafting over the counter and out through the flywire door at the front of the shop. Undetectable to human noses the smell had other nostrils twitching in delight. In another, darker, place, the pungent stink was producing low, guttural growls and slurping sounds of delight from the inhabitants of the abyss. Eager to get closer, there was a general movement upwards towards the light of the upper world.

While business did pick up after lunch, Stan’s new Pork and Cranberry sausages sat on their tray remaining overlooked. No matter where Stan positioned them in the refrigerated display cabinet, his customers would not give them a second look. They were quite content to buy their regular cuts of meat. So much for Lorraine’s suggestion.

We’re coming.

That voice again, but was it one voice or many? Where was it coming from? Stan shivered and busied himself with crumbing some lamb cutlets, though the sense of impending doom stayed with him at the back of his mind.

As five o’clock drew nearer Stan began to clear away the meat from the display cabinet. Any meat remaining was covered with plastic and taken to the refrigerator which stood beside the walk-in freezer at the back of the shop. Empty trays were washed and stacked ready for use the following day, then the display cabinet was washed thoroughly with warm, soapy water.

It was while he was performing this onerous task that a small boy of about ten slipped into the shop. The dark-haired lad stood at the cash register but did not speak. It was by chance that Stan noticed him.

“Hello there, young man. I didn’t see ya standin’ there. What can I do for ya?”
He could see immediately that there was something odd about the boy. While Stan waited for an answer he tried to ascertain what is was that so disturbed him. The lad was of average height and weight, had pleasant enough features and was well dressed. There was nothing noticeably out of the ordinary about him, but then he looked again at the boy’s eyes. Yes, the eyes. They looked old. The sclera had a yellow tinge and there were faint wrinkles in the skin around them and bags beneath them.

Finally the boy opened his mouth to speak. Stan cocked his head in anticipation of the boy’s answer. What he heard was not what he had expected to hear. A hissing sound, like gas escaping, came from the boy’s mouth. The boy looked embarrassed and promptly closed his mouth tight. Stan noticed him swallow and open his mouth again. He pointed at the back room, only just visible through the doorway separating the two spaces, and spoke.

“Sausages.”

The voice was deep, too deep for a boy of his tender years. Stan furrowed his brow and stood staring at the boy like an idiot. Where had he heard that voice before?

“Sausages,” the boy said again, snapping Stan out of his temporary daze.

Stan shook his head.

“Of course,” he said and then disappeared into the back room.

He returned with a tray of traditional beef sausages, but the boy merely shook his head, pointed again at the back room and repeated, “Sausages.”

Stan looked bewildered. The boy’s voice was unbelievably deep.

“Ya not a man of many words, are ya?” he stated as he returned to the refrigerator.

Then it struck him to try and offload some of the new Pork and Cranberry sausages onto the boy. There was obviously something a little odd about the lad and maybe he wouldn’t notice the difference.

“How many, mate?” Stan asked with the silver tongs in his hand.

“All,” the boy replied.

Stan shrugged his shoulders and emptied the tray into a large plastic bag, then wrapped the bag in white butcher’s paper. He rang up the sale and the child paid him, disappearing through the door without even a ‘thank you’. Stan waited for the door to swing shut before dashing over to the window to watch the boy unwrap the package, put his hand inside the bag and tear off two sausages. Stan almost choked as he watched the boy shove them into his mouth and devour them raw. Then, when he had finished those two, he tore off another two sausages and disappeared around the corner, feeding the raw sausages into his mouth as he went.

Stan was shocked. His jaw dropped like a door that had come off its hinge. Only after he’d had time to think did he realise he was now that much closer to disposing of Lorraine for good; hiding the evidence permanently in the stomachs of those unsuspecting customers who were game enough to try something new.

That night Stan worked back late, de-boning Lorraine’s legs and putting the flesh into the vat of cranberry juice to absorb the sweet berry flavour. By nine o’clock he had produced three trays of new ‘Pork and Cranberry’ sausages, eight dozen in all.

The very next morning he had barely enough time to turn the faded cardboard sign on his shop door from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’ before an elderly lady stepped into the shop. She looked remarkably like Mrs Tonkins, though it wasn’t her.

“Hello, ma’am,” he smiled, greeting her as warmly as he did all his customers.

She nodded and returned his smile, yet there was something odd about this new customer as well. Her skin seemed to hang off her body as though it were three sizes too big, especially around the eyes where the skin hung down exposing the lower edge of her eyeballs and displaying the pinkish-red inner tissue. Her bottom lip flopped over until it almost touched her chin, displaying the lower halves of her long, yellowed teeth and her red, inflamed gums. When she pointed to the ‘Pork and Cranberry’ sausages, the skin at the tip of her finger sagged downwards as though she were wearing a glove too large for her hand.

“How many can I get ya?” he asked, deliberately not looking at the woman for fear that she would catch him staring.

“All,” she stated in a voice as deep and guttural as the boy’s voice yesterday had been.

A strange, eerie feeling came over Stan. The voice was beginning to sound familiar. He carefully emptied a tray of sausages into a plastic bag, wrapped it in butcher’s paper and handed it to the old woman. She paid him and then left the shop. The door hadn’t even swung shut behind her when suddenly the boy from yesterday appeared.

“Let me guess,” said Stan, “Sausages.”

The boy nodded, a serious expression on his old face.

“All,” he demanded.

Stan emptied the second tray of sausages into a plastic bag, wrapped it and handed it to the boy, who received it with such delight that his eyes lit up and for the first time he smiled; a sight Stan wished he hadn’t seen. The boy’s idiot grin revealed long, needle-like teeth and caught between them was the meat from yesterday’s sausages; the meat that had once been his wife. Stan swallowed back the breakfast he could feel rising in his throat and did his best to smile back. He finished the transaction and retired for a few minutes to the back room where he kept a large bottle of whiskey. He had time to take one swig and wipe his brow before he heard the bell on the front door tinkle.

“Christ!” he cursed. He couldn’t deal with another freak. Two a day was his absolute limit. Reluctantly he put the bottle back in his desk drawer and entered the shop.

It was Val from next door.

“Hiya Stan,” she chirped.

“Hi Val. How’s everything?”
Val was wearing blue jeans and a navy and white striped t-shirt. Her blonde hair looked like a helmet made of fairy floss, and dangling from her ears were a pair of white hoop earrings.

“Good thanks, Darl. Life is life so you can’t complain. How about yourself?” she asked as she investigated the selection of meat on display.

“Good thanks,” Stan replied, hovering on the other side of the glass.

“How’s Lorraine? What’s the old girl up to? I haven’t seen her for ages.”

“Gone to visit her mother,” Stan answered without missing a beat.

“Oh, that must be wonderful for her,” Val beamed. “Give her a bit of a break I suppose. Oh, pork and cranberry. That’s unusual, isn’t it? Be a love and save me some. I’ll pop in after work and pay you then.”

Stan froze. The thought of Val dining on one of her best friends was incomprehensible. He simply couldn’t let it happen. It had been okay for complete strangers to buy the sausages, they had been freaky enough as it was, but he couldn’t let Val eat them.

However, Val was out the door with a wave goodbye before he could say anything. At least now he would have time to think of a way out of selling her the sausages.

Around mid-morning an extremely tall man reeking of stale body odour ambled in. Stan could not help but screw his face up as the vile stench reached his nostrils and this was how he appeared to the tall stranger. Strangely, the tall man was not offended by the look of disgust etched on Stan’s face; he merely pointed at the last tray of sausages.

Stan didn’t bother to ask him what he wanted. He sighed and emptied the tray of sausages into a bag, wrapped them in butcher’s paper and sold them to the man. There was a sudden blast of odour as the man lifted his arm to take the parcel and Stan gagged, but at least he had offloaded the last piece of dearly departed wife.

That night Stan called into the local pub for a beer and counter meal to celebrate. Things couldn’t have gone better if he had planned them. Val had been slightly perturbed at having missed out on trying Stan’s new delicacy, but had been contented with some beef and onion sausages instead and a promise that if he ever made any more Pork and Cranberry sausages she would be first in line to buy them.

How could he know what the following week would hold in store?

Stan spent the weekend spring cleaning and for one who had never ever touched the vacuum cleaner, he was doing a good job. Guilt was a tough taskmaster and ensured the house was more thoroughly cleaned than it had ever been before. Even the blood stained mattress was taken to the local tip and replaced by a new inner spring, purchased on a payment plan. To Stan it seemed as though he’d got away with the perfect murder.

On Monday morning he walked the three blocks to work with a spring in his step. He hadn’t felt this energetic since his youth, a distant memory now since so much of his life had ebbed away. He opened the shop, set up the display cabinet and began mixing up some stuffing for a dozen free-range chickens laying legs up in two rows on the counter top. As he spooned the moist stuffing mixture into each chicken in turn, the front door opened. Stan looked up, though the smile melted from his face like a snowflake in summer.

It was the old woman with the loose skin and this time she was accompanied by the boy with the old eyes. They walked up to the counter and then looked at each other when they couldn’t find what they had come for.

Stan stood watching, bewildered, from the other side.

“C-c-can I help you?” he stuttered.

“Sausages!” they growled.

Stan pointed at the selection of sausages he had but the duo shook their heads.

“I don’t have any of the other sausages,” he admitted sheepishly.

The old woman and the boy continued to stare at him for a few, very long seconds; their gaze piercing as though they were examining his very soul. He was mesmerised by the way they stared at him and he could do nothing about the tiny beads of perspiration that were forming on his forehead. He could not even swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. But then they just turned and walked out of the shop, breaking the spell they had cast over him. Only then did he dare to breathe, exhaling audibly and bringing his navy and white striped butcher’s apron up to wipe his face. They may have gone but Stan certainly didn’t feel relieved. If it hadn’t been for the fact he needed the business, he would’ve shut the shop up and gone home. As it was many of his regular customers were now buying their meat from the new supermarket. He hadn’t even seen Mrs Tonkins for over a week and if anyone was going to be loyal he would have put money on it being her.

At half past four Stan began to count the daily takings. The sky outside was turning a velvety-purple colour and a large bank of dark grey cloud was building on the horizon. There was a storm brewing. The flyscreen door at the front of the shop was flapping like the wing of injured bird, banging unsettlingly against the wall. Finally Stan could take it no longer. He marched around the counter, the soles of his shoes crunching on the debris blown in by the strong winds. Squinting and with his face lowered, he reached out into the gale for the door. Suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, three figures appeared. The sight of the old woman, the boy and the tall man with the body odour sent shivers of terror through him. Together they stepped forward, pushing past Stan and entering the shop.

“Sausages,” they growled.

Stan explained that he had no more ‘Pork and Cranberry’ sausages and while he was glad they had enjoyed his special sausages, he would no longer be stocking them. The small group looked at each other, emitting gurgles and grunts of displeasure while Stan inched his way around to the other side of the counter. One of them shrieked, causing Stan to stumble backwards. The boy leapt onto the counter and squatted there, snarling and baring his long, needle-like teeth. Thick, mucousy saliva dripped from each razor-sharp fang, ran over his quivering bottom lip and fell into a growing pool on the counter. The boy’s eyes were ablaze, pupils burning red hot. Stan felt a tightening in his chest.

Then the old woman began to grow taller and taller, her loose skin becoming taut before ripping open to reveal scaly, blue skin underneath. As her old skin fell in a crumpled heap to the floor, she loomed over the counter at him, staring with eyes like hot coals and gnashing her jagged fangs just inches from his face. Her head was covered in a mass of banded quills which rattled each time she lunged forward.

The remaining creature then revealed its true face; its skin similarly falling to the ground. The tall, smelly man’s skin was shed to reveal a long, narrow beak, lined on the inside with row upon row of tiny teeth. He had large, owl-like eyes and two horns curving upwards from his forehead. Although he was covered in delicate, blood-red feathers, he had human-looking hands, bare on the palms and armed with long, pointed talons at the tips of each finger. As it looked up, raising its enormous beak from where it had sat nestled in its chest feathers, it released a screech so blood-chilling that Stan felt his stomach muscles suddenly relax and he wet his trousers.

Amidst the nightmare unfolding around him, Stan heard the bell on the front door tinkle. Did he dare believe that help was at hand, that someone had come to rescue him? Like a scolded child he lifted his eyes in the direction of the sound. It was hard to see. The day had grown dark and the dust cloud from outside had found its way to the front door, making it difficult to identify the figure that stood there. Then more figures appeared, surging in like a swarm of bees and filling Stan with dread.

Each of the demons was unique. Some had similar traits but no two were exactly alike. Some had long tails while others had large, bat-like wings tucked up neatly behind them. Most of the creatures were blue or purple, although a few of them were red. Most had scales instead of skin whereas some had feathers. All were able to emit both shrill screams and deep, guttural growls. All had an aura of evil and the distinctively sickly-sweet stench of decay.

Stan vomited. Great streams of chunky liquid erupted from his mouth and covered both the tall bird-man and himself. The demons, excited by the pungent odour, fell upon Stan, licking at the vile mess with long, purple tongues, snapping and snarling at each other in a feverish feeding frenzy.

Stan felt his eyes roll back into head. Everything went black. He slipped amongst the swirling orgy of demons, unconscious and at their mercy. Whatever his fate was to be, he was now beyond caring.

It was pitch black when he came to. Only the fluorescent light from the cabinet and that of the street light illuminated the room, giving it a ghostly and other-wordly feel. At first he was disorientated and had to take a few moments to remember how he had come to be laying on the floor of his shop. As everything came rushing back to him he sat bolt upright, flinging himself against the railing of the back counter, his eyes wide with terror. He became aware of the sound of rain, torrents of it, and then of the howling wind, tearing down the main street, taking branches and roof tiles with it.

Hesitantly, Stan peered into the dim room. His nerves were as guitar strings that had been tightened too much – taut and ready to snap. He explored every shape, not feeling satisfied until he had recognised it. Then, he began to crawl, very slowly and very quietly, through the darkness. His senses were on full alert.

He crawled to the front of the counter and peeked around it towards the front door. In the faint light he could see that the front of the shop was clear. He closed his eyes and thanked God. But what about the back room where there were a dozen places to hide? He could not allow himself to rest completely until he had thoroughly explored the area behind the shop. So sucking in a great gulp of air, Stan put one hand and one knee forward and crawled into the darkness saturating the back room.

Watching from its position, squatting on the counter top, was the smallest of the creatures. The boy. Its eyes, like two glowing embers, watched his every move with interest. Silently it licked it slips as the smell of living human flesh continued to tantalise its nostrils. But this human was not for eating. They had other uses for this human.

Stan inched his way into the back room and slid up the wall into a standing position. Fumbling about in the darkness he managed to find the light switch and flick it on. He held his breath as the room was flooded with electric light. With eyes, darting from corner to corner, Stan investigated every inch of the back room. Between the walk-in freezer and the cool room. Nothing. Behind the chopping block. Nothing. Behind the shelves of spices and cling wrap. Nothing. He sighed. He was alone.

He slid back around the door jamb and into the shop.

He screamed. Like a teenage girl, he screamed. The creature on the counter hissed, then leapt off and landed right in front of him. He panicked and fell backwards against the wall. The blue demon smiled, satisfied. The human was his. It slid over to where Stan lay dazed on the floor and lowered its face so that it was millimetres from his. It breathed in, savouring the smell of live flesh so close yet untouchable, then licked its lips. Saliva dribbled over its lips and fell in strings across Stan’s face and head, coating it and gelling Stan’s thinning hair to his scalp.

“More sausages,” he heard its voice say inside his head. “Make more sausages!”

The creature licked Stan’s face, the saliva stinking of rotting flesh, before it bounded over the counter and out the front door; its hideous laugh carried away on the wind as Stan passed out a second time.

It was four o’clock in the morning when he came to. The storm had abated somewhat though traces of it remained in the wind gusts and showery rain. Stan stumbled home. He felt like a zombie, putting one leg in front of the other automatically as he tried frantically to figure a way out of the mess he had created for himself. There was no more Lorraine that was certain. What was also certain was that the demons would be back. He would have to find a way to feed their appetite and therefore keep them from feeding on him.

The first thing he saw as he turned the corner into his street was the old Holden. Without thinking, Stan opened the door and got in. For a minute he sat there, staring blankly ahead at the aluminium garage door, hoping for inspiration. And then it came. Despite teetering on the verge of exhaustion and despite his stomach rumbling since it hadn’t been fed since lunchtime, Stan had thought of a way out of his dilemma.

There was an area of town called Lakeside. By day it was a picnic area, with public toilets, barbeques and a children’s playground. By night it became something else. Well after dark the area became a beat where men could get off with other men or find themselves a lady. Whatever you wanted you could usually find it down at Lakeside. And Stan wanted a hooker. Nobody would miss a hooker. It was genius. It didn’t take him long to pick one up either.

Tickles was a large girl with a pretty face. Her ample curves had been forced into a dress that was doing its best to contain them. Her voluminous breasts were more out than in and the straps of her cheap stilettos dug into the skin of her foot. She fell into the front seat with a grunt and a smile. Stan asked her to close the door. He drove her to a secluded area by a thicket of pine trees at the edge of the park and then handed her fifty dollars.

“Let’s do it outside,” he said.

“But it’s wet out there. It’s been pouring all night.”

Her voice was high and whiney, and seemed at odds with her large frame.

Stan swallowed. Tickles had a point. But he was paying.

“I don’t care. I like to get a bit dirty. It turns me on. Besides, we can do it up against a tree or something.”

Tickles inspected him by the faint light of the dashboard. Assessing the risk.

“Well, it’s your money,” she sighed finally. “Done a lot worse for a lot less. C’mon then.”

They got out of the car and trudged through the mud to a nearby pine. The ground was covered with dead pine needles and so was soft beneath their feet. Tickles manoeuvred herself out of the dress, revealing she hadn’t been wearing any panties, and threw the garment over a low branch.

“So what’s it gonna be, baby?” she asked, cupping her breasts with her hands and rubbing them tantalisingly.

Stan, despite himself, felt his cock swelling inside the confines of his underpants and for a few seconds considered actually fucking her. But he couldn’t think about his own needs now. He moved slowly towards her, his hand inside his well-worn vinyl jacket. He smiled at her. She smiled back thinking that she knew what was on his mind. Finally he was just inches from her pale, overweight body. In a flash he pulled the knife out from beneath his jacket and lunged at her. The knife struck her in the throat. She screamed, but as the steel blade was dragged across the cartilage of her oesophagus, the sound became a series of gurgles then died altogether. She slumped back against the rough bark of the trunk. Blood poured from the wound, running in a great black sheet down her pale white skin, staining it, until it reached her pubic hair. There the blood collected before finding its way along the mass of hairs to the tips, dribbling off into the pine needles below and taking her life with it. The weight of the red flood, black in the night, seemed to drag her downwards until she dropped onto the pine needles, dead.

Stan left her where she had fallen to wait for the blood to drain and to give him enough time to consider how he was going to move her massive bulk into the car. The first thing he did was reverse the car up to the tree. With all the wind and rain, he concluded, both the blood and the tyre tracks would be gone by the morning, removing all evidence of his ever having been there.

It took a lot of effort but he managed to get Tickles’ body into the trunk of his car. It took the same amount of effort to close the trunk. He could feel it squashing down on her until the latch finally caught. Remembering her clothing, he went back up to the tree and snatched the dress off the branch where it had been hanging. He could burn it and her boots at home later.

He climbed into the car and as he turned the key in the ignition the heavens opened and released a heavy downpour which made Stan smile.

“Gotta love that rain,” he chuckled to himself as he pulled off the dirt track and back onto the main road.

By the next morning Stan had enough ‘Pork and Cranberry’ sausages to keep all the freaks happy and hopefully off his back. But as the days melted one into another, more of the demons, dressed in ill-fitting skins, lined up at the counter demanding sausages. It wasn’t long before Stan had to kill almost every night in order to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for human flesh. Twice he had tried to convince them that he could not kill any more. He had pleaded with them. The men and women disappearing from the downtown area were starting to attract the attention of the police. The last time he had gone down to Lakeside he had spotted two patrol cars and a foot patrol. God only knew how many undercover cops had been lurking in the shadows.

Val had also informed him that Mrs Tonkins had been found skinned in her rocker. And she hadn’t been the only one. Others had been found skinned, some still clinging onto the last threads of life when they were found, only to die soon after. Val could hardly believe it. She’d been crying an hour before she could stop long enough to tell Stan.

“Unbelievable!” she kept sobbing before bursting into a renewed fit of tears.

The demons did not care for Stan’s pleas. For all their strength and black powers, they were fundamentally simple creatures who were used to living in dark, damp places where nothing else could survive. They dwelt beneath the earth, constantly tormented by the smells and sounds of those animals above them that they liked to feed on, but which they could not kill themselves. None of them were about to let an opportunity such as the one they had slip easily from their grasp.

Stan, hoping to trick them out of the hold they had over him, asked them that if they were not allowed to kill how it was that they had come to be wearing the skins of dead people. They had snarled and laughed their maniacal cackles at his attempts to outwit them, and explained in two- and three-word growls that they hadn’t killed those people at all. They had just borrowed their skins. Their victims had been alive when they had left them. Bleeding and screaming, but alive.

“But the fact you skinned them alive and that they died from their wounds means that you killed them!” he tried to explain.

“No! False!” they snarled. “Liar!”

Stan could not hope to win by using logic on them. These were creatures of pure instinct. He would have to think on it some more.

The next time Stan killed it was a male. He met Adrian in the toilet of the local hotel. Stan was now a regular visitor there since he needed the aid of a few pints to help him with the kill and also to provide an alibi. He caught Adrian sneaking a look at him while they were at the urinal together. His first reaction had been annoyance.

“Listen mate, I’m not…”

Then he stopped.

“Hey, you wouldn’t be interested in coming back to the shop with me?” he asked. “I work just over the road.”

The man’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

Even before he’d manoeuvred Adrian into the back room he could smell the horde as they waited in the shadows. Most of them hung out there at night now, waiting to get the pick of the kill. To Stan’s advantage, at least he didn’t have to go through the process of turning the meat into sausages any more.

“Where do you want to do it?” Adrian asked, rubbing his hands over Stan’s broad, chubby chest.

“Over there on the chopping block.”

A look of disgust shadowed Adrian’s face.

“On the, er, chopping block?” he echoed.

Stan reacted immediately, surprised at the calibre of his response.

“A kink of mine, ya know, with me being a butcher and all.”

Adrian was still unsure. He supposed that it was harmless. He began to tentatively unbutton his shirt.

“Excuse me, mate. Nature calls,” Stan mumbled as he shuffled towards the back door.

“Again?” Adrian asked in a surprised tone. He was beginning to suspect that something was up. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something…

“Too much beer,” Stan called back. “Get ya gear off and I’ll be back in a minute.”

And with that instruction he left the room. He could sense the horde becoming impatient to be fed. He saw their eyes glowing in the shadows as he returned from outside with the axe in his hand and hear their slurps and sighs of pleasure. They were like children in their anticipation of what was to come. Adrian, who now had his back to Stan, heard him come in from the back and was in the process of turning when Stan brought the axe crashing down onto his skull, splitting the forehead wide open. The man died instantly, his body falling back against the chopping block and bouncing forwards towards Stan. Stan stepped back, twisting the axe out of Adrian’s skull where it had become lodged, and moved back as far as he could from the body, though it didn’t stop one of the demons from crashing into him and sending him flying in its haste to taste the freshly killed flesh.

The demons wasted no time in swarming over the dead man, tearing at his flesh with their razor-sharp fangs and ripping at it with iron-hard claws. Within seconds they were covered in the man’s blood and amidst the frenzy they began biting chunks off each other.

Without any warning someone yelled ‘Police!’. The demons looked up from Adrian’s half-eaten corpse and fled to the shadows, leaving in their wake a mess of blood and human flesh. Stan struggled to his feet but was dizzy from the fall. He skidded on a piece of bloody muscle and fell down again. Two policemen charged in waving guns. First they noticed the human remains on the floor and then they saw Stan.

“Get up!” yelled one of the officers, a sergeant, who was pointing his gun directly at Stan.

Stan raised one arm slowly into the air and used the other one to hoist himself into a standing position.

“Turn around and keep your hands where I can see them,” shouted the sergeant.

Stan did as he was ordered. He began to sob. He knew this was the end. The long arm of the law had finally caught up with him and was going to get what was coming to him. He hadn’t really considered being caught before. Everything had seemed so surreal, like a dream within a dream. Having a gun waved at him soon woke him up to the fact that he had committed a real crime and that he was going to be punished severely for it.

By now two other officers had arrived on the scene. One approached him with a set of cuffs at the ready while the other men covered him. Unfortunately for Stan that was the moment he chose to explain what had been happening. He lowered his hands. One of the officers saw the bloody axe by his feet and assumed Stan was reaching for it. A shot rang out.

“Hold your fire!” the sergeant called out.

But it was too late. A bullet meant for Stan’s thigh, pierced him through the chest. He dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes, noticing as he fell a mass movement behind the officers as the horde poured from the shadows in readiness to devour the very person who had been feeding them all these weeks. He could smell their hot breath, smell the stink of their last meal, as the room slowly grew darker and life slid from his body.

The officers, scared witless of the approaching menagerie, began firing indiscriminately. One officer went down, shot clean through the neck and again in the stomach. The demons were on him in an instant, tearing into him and savouring every morsel of warm flesh. Others attacked Stan’s body, ripping at it and peeling long strips of fatty meat from his bones. The three remaining officers tried to get clear shots at the creatures that swarmed around them, but it was close to impossible; their bodies were a writhing mass.

In the commotion another officer sustained a serious injury and fearful of being devoured alive put the gun to his throat and pulled the trigger. Flesh was being torn from his frame before he hit the ground. Soon the whole room was in chaos, alive with the smells and sounds of death.

The remaining two officers tried to make their way through the throng of feeding demons, stepping over shapes that slid about in the blood and filth of the concrete floor, but one of them slipped in the mess.

“Get me out of here!” he screamed. “Get me out!”

The surviving policeman, a young man just out of the academy, snapped. He backed up towards the door adjoining the shop front as two of the demons came sniffing around him. He held his breath as they gnashed their needle-like teeth and flicked their long purple tongues out at him. In a mixture of fear and desperation he put his pistol to his temple…

“What are you doing!” yelled the other officer. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

The rookie stared at his colleague, his eyes wide and crazed; his ears filled with the sound of flesh being torn from bone and the sound of gnashing teeth.

“They’re gonna get us, Jake. They’re gonna kill both of us.”

Then he removed the gun from his temple and aimed it at his buddy.

“No, mate!” cried Jake. “No…”

The rookie squeezed the trigger. The bullet entered Jake’s heart, killing him instantly. The rookie then returned the barrel of the gun to his temple and squeezed again. One of the demons leapt up into the air, caught a chunk of his brain in mid-air and swallowed it down.

Outside in the street there was a flurry of activity. The commanding officer, who had sent his men in ahead, was arranging for some dynamite to be delivered. He had glimpsed the hellish scene inside, had witnessed his men being torn apart and feverishly devoured, and had decided to take drastic measures. As precious time slipped by and the hellish sounds of the butcher’s shop filtered out, he began pacing. Of course there would be damage to public property but what else could he do? Whatever those things in there killing his men were, they had to be destroyed.

Finally, the explosives arrived.

With no time to lose the police captain smashed a hole in one of the back room windows and Laurie, the explosives expert, lit the fuse and lobbed two sticks through it. The explosion was almost instantaneous. The captain and Laurie had run only a few metres from the building when the whole shop was blown into the heavens. Val’s video shop was completely levelled, as was the shop on the other side of it. Both men were thrown several metres across the street and the whole area was littered with blobs of burning wood and blackened demon flesh.

In nearby streets lights came on at a rapid rate as people dressed in their pyjamas and nightgowns came flooding onto the footpaths. A group of concerned citizens even made their way to the smoky blast site, completely under-dressed and shouting their questions at the gathered police force who were still shaking the ringing from their ears. But their questions remained unanswered until the following morning when the news of the night’s events was splashed across the front pages of both local newspapers. Although there had been no mention of demons, rather the journalists had been told the explosion had been caused by a faulty gas bottle exploding. The story seemed more plausible and the general public accepted it as being true.

Deep beneath the surface, down in the abyss, there was a vast population of demon creatures who had been taught a lesson they were not soon going to forget. Though their number was legion, they knew what had transpired in the world of light. They had felt the death of their kin.

Again they began the long wait. With senses honed, they waited for another mind to capture. In the darkness they concentrated.

Kill! Kill!

The End


© 2007 Wayne Summers

Wayne Summers currently has a story in Issue 5 of The Ethereal Gazette, Issue 19 of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction, Demon Minds and Volume 1, Number 6 of Art&Prose Magazine. He has other stories about to be published in On The Night Highways, Night To Dawn, The Willows and as the cover story in Issue Two of Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine.

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