City of Teeth
The water was clear enough, but the smell was off, a foul sewer scent that hit Daphne Post in the face as soon as she turned the tight rusted knob. That should have made her hesitate to splash it onto her face, but right now, she'd dunk her head in the toilet to rinse off the sweat coating her after driving for five hours in hundred-degree heat.
Daphne rolled her hands under the faucet and then scrubbed her face until she felt somewhat clean. She combed her wet hands through blond locks that now showed ample roots, then repeated the process in an effort to reduce the Bozo-the-Clown look that had developed over the past couple of days.
The reflection in the old, scratched mirror looked better -- not good, but better. Satisfied, she left the gas station unisex bathroom, hoping that the smell of the water and the smell of the trucker who had used the stall before her stayed behind.
A few seconds in the sun sent perspiration trickling down every crevice on her body again, and it made her sick. She needed relief. She wanted to peel the jeans off her legs and kick her boots into the highway. Unfortunately, flip flops and Daisy Dukes wouldn't quite command much respect when she had to question a potential witness.
Sex appeal wasn't an issue. She wasn't classically beautiful. Her nose, jaw line, and cleft chin made her look too masculine. Her body still had noticeable cellulite despite her frequent attempts to launch a workout regime. But her career as a private investigator put her in contact with the "cream" of society, men happy to see reasonably healthy female willing to speak to them.
Charlie, her asistant, sat in the Jeep Wrangler, sipping an oversized cup of soda. He'd been in much better spirits that she’d been this whole trip, actually in much better spirits than she ever was -- something Daphne attributed to his youth. Charlie was about ten years younger and still clinging to some kind of romantic preconception about this job. Daphne had hired him not too long after she started her agency. Unlike her, he still had time to kill, to screw around, and to think about P.I. work as an interesting hobby rather than a permanent job. She, on the other hand, had to make this work. She was out of options.
"There's a Coke for you in here."
"I'm not thirsty." She was lying. She just didn't want to have to stop again at another delightful gas station restroom.
"You know, I've been looking at this old map, and I think we must've taken a wrong turn or something."
"I've checked the map ten times. The place was supposed to be near Route Fifty, but it ain't on any map printed in the past twenty years. We're going the right way."
"You're telling me it took this guy five days to get to get to his hump-hut?"
"No, I'm sure it took him a few hours, but he knew exactly where he was goin'."
Mrs. Penelope Manning had been aware that her husband Andy had a mistress he saw once a week. She was about to confront him with divorce papers when he took off with said tryst and most of their savings account.
Daphne had found the name of the apartment complex where Andy was supposed to be hiding out on a receipt in his desk drawer: Apple Park. But 'Apple Park' wasn't in any phone directory or on the Internet, so they'd had to search for it the hard way. They'd already driven through three middle-of-nowhere towns, but nobody in any of them had ever seen Andy or Apple Park.
"Maybe he paid off the town. They probably even changed the signs."
The thought made her shudder. Could an entire bumpkin town be paid to hide a philandering husband? Before they had left, she wouldn't have paid that comment a second thought, but driving through the Nevada badlands with the sun baking the brains tended to adjust one's perceptions.
"It's gotta be the next town."
"By the time we get there, he's gonna be gone."
She started the car.
They drove for another hour through heat that made her want to stop the car 'to take a whiz', but really just to cry. That gas station in the middle of the oven had done it -- convinced her that becoming a P.I. had been one more mistake in a long series of mistakes (her family had given up on her years ago), and that taking this case had been the blunder to top 'em all.
She remembered the time she had dropped her camera in the rain just as her target and the target’s boyfriend had left. A lot of money had gone down the drain that night. She'd stood for twenty minutes, staring at the exposed film, the only hard evidence she was likely to get in this case, lost to clumsiness and a flimsy camera.
That hadn't been the first failure, but it had been the first time she had doubted her choice of profession. Maybe if there had been even one real success, one big case solved, one big payday, things would have been bearable. But the last couple years had been spent hanging out in porn shops and vomit-perfumed bars, waiting for someone worthwhile to show up who never did. Every job had been a nightmare of waiting and more waiting in horrible places, futile digging though shit forever, or in this case, driving endlessly.
"Wait, I think I see something."
It was a town in the distance. A small town, only a few structures visible.
"What is that?" Daphne squinted to make it out better. She couldn't see much, but there wasn't much to see.
"It's not on the map. What do you think?"
"I don't see any place else."
A small dirt road leading into the town's direction eventually grew out of the hills. Daphne turned the Wrangler on it, and before long, they were at the front gates to the City of Cedarville. At least the small wooden sign claimed it was a city.
There were really only the remains of the gates. Two stalks of jagged metal framed the cleared road to the town. There were no walls on either side of the gates, only more vast empty land. Just to be proper, they rolled through the official entrance, into the midst of the town.
Daphne and Charlie climbed out, strolling around. The dust immediately entered their throats, and both had a short bout of choking.
"Damn, what is this place?"
There were a couple rows of old buildings, no more than a few stories high, some made out of concrete, but many only out of wood. There was no pavement or streets, just dirt and wooden boardwalks around the individual structures. No specific names on any of the signs. It was the General Store, Laundry, Hardware Store. The place felt dehydrated, sucking the moisture out of their bodies.
Charlie rubbed his eyes. "When's Josey Wales showin' up?"
Daphne couldn't decide whether she wanted this to be the place or not. She hated the thought of having to drive another day. Then again, having to hang around here all night didn't sit well with her either. Among other things was the stench.
"You know, this place smells like shit. I mean actual shit, not just bad."
Charlie was right. The place smelled bad, ten times worse than the gas station restroom. It wasn't just human waste either. There was something else in the air.
It reminded Daphne of the zoo she had visited when she was a child...
"We'll try the store. Maybe he at least passed though, bought some cigarettes. Wait by the car."
"If they have anything to drink--"
"Yeah, yeah, I got ya."
She walked across the sizable ground to the General Store. It looked dilapidated, though not deserted. She just hoped they weren't having a sale on "hangin'" ropes or whatever.
She had to use a bit of strength to push open the door. It hit a tiny bell hanging in the corner, but no ring came as the clapper was missing. The store was as parched and colorless inside as outside. An old chubby man in overalls was behind the counter. He took off his glasses, wiped them on his shirt, then placed them back on to see who entered.
Daphne walked over to him. "Good afternoon, sir."
"Afternoon, ma'am." He was polite, but didn't smile.
She pulled the picture of Andy out of her pocket and showed it to him.
"Can you do me a small favor, and tell me if you saw this gentleman before?"
He looked at it for a noticeable time. His brow furrowed as if he was really trying to remember. His face relaxed, almost relieved.
"Sorry, ma'am. I haven't"
"Ever hear of a place called Apple Park?"
"No, can't say I have. You know, there's a town not too far from here, if you head back to the highway. I'm sure that place is up there."
"Yeah, maybe you're right." She stretched, her back cracked. She was tired, and the latest negative answer just sucked the last of the wind out of her sails.
"How far is the next town?"
"Only ten miles."
A loud sigh shot out of her.
The man gritted his teeth, then said, "There's a hotel right around the corner that could put you up for the night."
He nodded, but seemed reluctant to look her in the eye. "Fine place, people that come through here always stay there."
Something was odd. His behavior didn't match his words. Still, the worst hotel in the world would be better than five more minutes in the car.
"Oh, thanks. I think I'll give it a try."
Daphne walked back to the Jeep. Charlie was using a towel to wipe the sweat out from under his shirt.
"Well, we can hit the road again, or we can call it a day, and spend the night here."
Charlie looked at the towel, stained brown. "A shower would be nice."
They pulled the jeep around the block to the hotel, a wide, four story structure of thick timber and crumbling white brick that was more run down than any of the others. As Daphne looked around, she deducted that the hotel was possibly the center of the town.
They left the Jeep right out front in what they decided was a parking space. To the far left was a brown Oldsmobile, the only other car Daphne saw in the town. She also noticed it was cleaner than anything else. It didn’t belong there, to anyone who lived there. Maybe another traveler was staying.
Charlie was the second out of the car, but the first to speak. "People stay here?"
"He said it was the only hotel."
"Lack of competition's always the worst thing for a business."
Daphne shoved one of the two doors to the foyer. There were two glass doors on the other end that opened into the lobby. They were both so filthy that it took a few steps before she figured out they were supposed to be transparent. Gingerly, she pushed on the handle, gaining access to the lobby.
A short man in an old, dusty bellboy's uniform sat behind the desk reading a book. Daphne stepped up to the desk. She noticed the book the bellboy-clerk was reading was the Bible.
He immediately slammed the book on the desk and stood straight like a private caught sleeping on duty by his superior. A wide toothy smile exploded across his face.
"Yes Miss, how can I help?"
"We'd like two rooms for the night."
"That'll be thirty dollars a piece."
Daphne looked at the antiquated cash register sitting close by. No card reader in sight. "Do you take credit?"
"Sorry, ma'am. We have to insist on cash."
"That's okay." She pulled a wad of twenties out of her pocket.
Charlie pulled his own money out, not wanting to seem like a deadbeat.
"It's okay, Charlie."
"No, I got it. Can we have rooms on the highest floor?"
The clerk thought for a second, then smiled his insincere smile again. "Sure, no reason why not."
They took their bags up three flights of stairs. Daphne wanted to curse Charlie, except she couldn't deny that he was on to something. For some reason, being as far from the ground floor as possible seemed like a good idea in this hotel, in this whole town. The long climb gave her time to think. There was something abnormal about they way the clerk had spoken that last sentence. It was a little louder than the others, almost like he wanted to make sure they heard it.
"No reason why not."
First the store owner, and now the clerk. She was reading something off the whole town, but couldn't put her finger on it.
"I just want some damn sleep," Charlie belted out as he flopped on the bed. "We can get in a few hours and leave later. We can even sleep in shifts if you’re worried, but we're dyin' here. I mean it's not like we haven't slept in worse dumps."
Daphne's mind jumped to a few months ago when she had awakened to the sound of several men falling down the steps, getting into a fist fight over a coke deal gone bad, all right outside her room. She had stayed awake after that, watching the thin pine wood door separating her from them. Only a chain lock and a chair provided any defense.
She looked in the mirror. Looked at the bags under her eyes. She spied Charlie on the bed taking a quick glance at her, then looking away before she would notice. In cases like this, his mind always jumped to that.
He hopped off the bed, taking his bags. "I'll be in the next room if you need anything."
She wasted no time kicking off her shoes and sliding under the sheets. Surprisingly, they were soft and comfortable. They obviously make an attempt to keep things clean. What was that smell?
It was the third scream that woke her. The other two she heard in her sleep, and didn't process until after she was up and realized they were real. She rushed to the window, peering out into blackness for the sun had long since set. There were no street lamps. No way of making out anything, save for the faint reflection of moonlight against the objects below.
She squinted. She could see something. Movement.
It was a white shirt. The rest of the man's clothes were dark so she couldn't distinguish them, but she could see enough to place a man, arms flailing. He was the middle of something. He was in a sea of something. Bright streaks of moonlight bounced off many forms, rolling, squirming around him.
He was still screaming, amidst some other kind of white noise. Finally, Daphne was able to dissect the other sound.
It was barking.
She banged on Charlie's door, but stopped herself before screaming his name. She stopped altogether, standing there in the hallway, not sure what to do. She didn't want to make any more noise.
After a few seconds that seemed terribly longer, Charlie opened the door, groggy, confused.
"What? What's wrong?"
She pushed him back in. "The window!"
She threw the curtains aside. "Look."
Charlie strained to see, unable to pierce the darkness. The sound registered before the sight. "What is that? Dogs or something?"
"The street’s filled with them."
Charlie then caught sight of the swirling mass covering the ground below. "What? What's going on?"
"I saw a man down there. They were eating him."
"Are you sure?"
They both watched for a minute. She could no longer see any sign of the man. The white shirt was gone -- or maybe just not white anymore.
Daphne stepped back from the window, her heart spasming in her chest. "I think we should close the curtains."
Charlie nodded and pulled the curtains together, then backed away from the window. Being noticed suddenly seemed like something to be avoided.
They both crouched down against the wall, waiting for the sound of shuffling and barking to die down. It was a long, nauseating wait.
After a while, a dim blue glow began to materialize on the walls, creeping in from the window above them. In an hour or two, it would be bright enough to leave.
Daphne watched the light's evolution. Much of her wanted to spring up as soon as possible, yet she couldn't summon up the strength. Charlie had fallen asleep, his head slumped down against his knees. She envied him. She wished she could tune out the next couple of hours until the time to break for it, but she was too wound up. When that time did come around, she started a sort of pseudo game of trying to will herself to action, although she certainly wasn't having any fun.
"Get up, now."
"I'm scared, I don't want to move."
"What do you want to do? Sit here forever?"
"I just want to be home."
"You have to get up."
She thought about her family. Not any family she made, but her parents. She wanted to be home where her mom would be making soup for her after she came in from the snow, and she was snuggled up in a blanket.
"GET UP, NOW!"
She took a deep breath and sprung to her feet. Keeping her momentum, she kicked Charlie hard.
"Charlie, get up. We have to go."
"Ow! What the fuck?" Charlie opened his eyes, rubbing his bruised shin and giving her his best hurt-puppy look.
She was sorry for treating him so roughly, but she knew that she would freeze again if she didn't keep moving. "We have to move, Charlie, now!"
The things they had seen suddenly came back to Charlie, and he flew up past her, grabbing his bag. "Shit! Shit! Shit! Oh Fuck! We gotta get out of here."
"Keep it quiet," Daphne hissed. "I'm getting my bag, and we're gone."
She tip-toed quickly to the door and gently placed her ear to it. She heard nothing on the outside. Before too much thinking could glue her feet to the floor, she clutched the knob, and pulled open the door.
She slipped out and through the hallway, curving her body against her own room door in a heartbeat. It was still half open from last night.
"Someone could be waiting."
She slid through the opening, not touching the door as if some alarm would go off, the sort of alarm that people think must be everywhere when they are afraid for their lives. Every squeak of their footsteps and creak of a door, every change in the light seemed to announce their movements to the world.
Daphne's bag was on the floor. She pulled her boots on, tucking the laces in the sides rather than taking the time to tie them. She snatched her bag by the handle. It slammed into a dresser. A few items rattled on top, making only the smallest of sounds, but enough to stop Daphne in her tracks. She listened, waiting for some kind of reaction, but heard only the hissing of air through her clenched teeth.
She started again out of the room.
Daphne and Charlie hustled down the staircase, neither saying a word. Charlie had pulled in front of her. He didn't leave her behind in the dust, but rather took the role as a shield. If anything appeared to impede their trek, he would plow right though it using gravity to his advantage.
The made it to the ground floor.
Charlie pushed the staircase door open. The two ran down the hallway, heading for the entrance to the front lobby. Just a small frame of old wood and dirt and glass.
Then there was the slam.
A wooden slam. They both stopped cold. A slight moment of indecision long enough to see a small 3 foot by 3 foot panel, opening at the other end of the hall, behind them.
Then the dogs came.
One after another, they fired out. Dobermans possibly, but bigger, grisly, with strange deformities. Teeth jutting out every which way like some sort of mutants. Down the hallway, their legs moved so fast they were almost invisible. It gave the slimy canines the appearance of large moray eels. Barking on top of barking. They were at Daphne and Charlie in seconds.
Both humans ran through the lobby. Neither even bothered to look to see if the clerk was behind the desk. Barging out the front door, Charlie slammed it shut behind him. The dogs immediately crashed against it, harder and harder. Daphne and Charlie used all their might to hold the door closed.
Daphne turned to look at the Jeep, leaning against the door while she fumbled for the keys. Then she whimpered, "Charlie, the car!"
Charlie pivoted, keeping his weight against the door. The Jeep was totaled. The frame was ripped and dented, the windows shattered, the tires non-existent. It was the work of many small implements, hundreds of scratches and cuts in the car.
Charlie’s eyes bulged. "They ate the car."
The dogs rattled the door terribly. Daphne let out some quick hysterical screams. Charlie’s eyes darted all over like a frightened deer.
"We have to run."
"We'll never make it."
"WE HAVE TO!"
The door was disintegrating under their hands from the onslaught.
They ran, letting go of the door. The fragments of the wood hitting them from behind as the dogs burst through. They ran in what was a blurry fury of sloppy steps and the loud, terrible, chomping of teeth and claws. A veritable living thresher grinding closer to them. They could feel the hungry drool splashing on their backs.
Charlie saw a strong solid pole ahead. A piece of a flagpole from one of the nearby buildings, long since broken. Charlie knew he could grab it with only a slight deviation from his path.
"KEEP RUNNING! I'LL HOLD 'EM BACK!"
He flung his body to the left towards the pole. Daphne ran in her own direction. She needed a structure, a wall. She ran towards a familiar place, the store. Daphne turned behind to see Charlie clumsily snatching up the pole and a few steps later, spinning around to strike a few of the dogs in their faces. It was a fruitless, grotesque moment as the army overpowered him in seconds and pulled apart his body.
The raw ferocity of the jaws grasping and tearing made Daphne forget her fear -- or raised it to the level of awe. Several of Charlie's parts slipped loose and flew through the air, but the speed of the dogs made sure they never hit the ground.
She veered around a corner, her legs tired, but she couldn't think of slowing. She saw the store, her resolve strengthened and she rocketed to the door. The barking was right at her ear as the door grew in her vision superbly fast, and within a few anxious breaths she was through it, swinging it closed against the hammering impacts of the dogs. Daphne didn't waste time with trying the block this door. Instead, she ran past the counter through the entry to the back room.
Responding to whatever entered her view without reason, she was through, and down the basement door, and down to a closet, and then sitting in the dark.
She didn't know where she was or where the store owner was. She only cared where the dogs were. She didn't hear them. She didn't hear anything except her own ragged breathing in the dark.
Left then right, made by shoes. They were human.
The door opened. The store owner was there. Daphne didn't move from her corner, although she wasn't feeling any immediate fear.
He didn't say anything. He looked at her with deep pitiful eyes. Daphne could ask.
"What is going on here?"
"Miss, I can't help you."
"WHAT IS HAPPENING!? WHAT'S WITH THE DOGS?!"
"They belong to the mayor of Cedarville."
He didn’t respond. She thought about the word again, but no further insight came.
"They're his dogs."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
He paused. Looked away, then turned back to her.
"Don't think it matters now. You already know. Don't matter if they hear..."
She waited. More than mere fear was showing on him. He was shaking. He looked like a mental patient.
"They all got good ears. They hear everything that happens in the city."
"The…mayor? Like an actual mayor?" She slid her body back up to standing position.
"We don't know what his name is. He's the grandson of our mayor elect Simon Parson... My pappy told me about him when I was young to explain why things were the way they were."
"What did he tell you?"
The store owner relaxed. He spoke softly, trying his best to sound elegant. "You can call me Davey."
"Not sure when Cedarville was built, but up until the end of the eighteen hundreds it was a normal enough town. A bit slow to evolve, partly 'cause of its isolation and partly 'cause of people who didn't want to rush with the times. Robert Parson was elected in the eighteen nineties. He was an okay man, stationed at Fort Shaw in his younger days until it was abandoned in 1890. After he came to Nevada, he took up breeding champion dogs, won a lot of shows.
Daphne could tell he was enjoying telling her the story. It was probably the first time in a long while he was able to have anything resembling a real conversation.
"His boy Jeremy was troubled, you know, in the head. Robert tried to cover it up, kept his boy hidden. He didn't know that Jeremy took up his pappy's hobby, and bred and trained his own dogs, trained them for years. Soon people started going missing, children, women. When townsfolk found out who it was, they marched straight to the city hall to confront Parson, but it was too late."
Another pause. He was listening for the dogs.
"He had already killed both his parents, and when the people came after him, Jeremy sicced his dogs on them. A few people made it out alive, but Jeremy made his intentions clear. Some people were lucky enough to flee the town. The rest he managed to hold hostage. He bred more mad dogs, anyone who tired to leave the town was torn apart before they could get though the gates. Strangers that came to the town were fed to the dogs, and their belongings claimed. In time, he took someone’s daughter and bred an even madder son and that's who runs the town now, with hundreds of dogs at his command."
"You can't leave."
"He hears everything we do. We have to maintain his town and help strangers settle at his home. He lives at the hotel. Him and his dogs live somewhere in the hotel near the food."
"He's going to kill me too."
She thought about the story. Maybe he was bullshitting her. Why would he? The dogs were certainly real. So was Charlie getting ripped into kibble.
She strained her mind, trying to squeeze some answer. "There has to be some way out of here."
"You can't get out. No one can."
She stayed in the corner. Davey watched her bounce her sides off each wall. He knew it would be pointless to try to pull her out or comfort her
Something finally flowed out. "I can't run away. What can I do?"
Daphne, ever so slowly, walked to the front door of the nameless store. The dogs continued barking and scratching at the front, but not so ferociously. They knew she was coming to them. Daphne’s whole body shook to the point that she almost couldn't manipulate her own arm to reach up and take the white dusty knob. The first click of it, and the dogs' fury increased tenfold. It sent her stumbling back. Tears were pouring from her eyes, but she tried to keep herself planted in the reality of the moment. Something she was always told as a child about dealing with dogs
"Don't show fear."
She stepped back up to the door, and again placed her hand on the knob, and paused.
She looked at the dogs, composed her strength, and spoke authoritatively.
"I want to see the Mayor of Cedarville."
Seconds passed with no change. Daphne doubted her plan.
Then the animals stifled themselves. They didn't calm, but their barking and snarling subsided as they forced themselves to be civil.
Daphne turned the knob completely and opened the door.
She stepped out into the sea of dogs that parted before her. Each one padded away, allowing her access to the street, the only street visible as her view consisted of buildings rising out of a field of black putrid hair. The dogs steered her, each one moving away to grant a bit of space, and then shuffling back right behind her. Daphne took one slow step after another trying to block out the thought that at any moment she would be swarmed and consumed. She couldn't let any fear appear. She had to stay firm even as she wondered whether or not any of this was making a difference.
In time, her pace picked up, her body relaxed and before she knew it, she was in the middle of the horde. Her fate was sealed. Nothing to do now but press ahead. It struck her that she was being digested after all. The town itself was swallowing her after she had slid through its teeth yesterday evening, and now she was being shuffled into its stomach.
"An animal doesn't think with a brain. It thinks with its stomach. I have to go there."
The hotel was back in her view, and she was walking through its front doors again. Past the front desk, now invisible among the troops. She slipped down the hall and there was the door that the dogs had come out of, still open for her. She crouched down, putting her face a mere inch from a growling mouth. The heat from it made her perspire instantly. She swallowed and pushed her head into the dark.
The smell made her gag reflex kick in. She had to keep from vomiting. Gently, she reached her hand in through the hole, and pressed down in something viscous she couldn't see. She thanked God for that small favor. Daphne pulled herself in further, deciding that her head wasn't in immediate danger of being lopped off, so she stretched her whole body through the hole.
There wasn't enough headway above so she had to continue crawling. However, it was clearly wide enough since there were still dogs constantly around her. Her eyes were adjusting, and she could see faint glimmers of light against their black eyes, red teeth, and greenish foam. The growling continued. The stench grew worse the deeper she crawled and finally she couldn't help choke as her lungs tried to push out the fumes of rotting meat and feces which abounded her. A few moments later, she was able to compose herself and pushed on.
Suddenly, a loud bark and a pair of jaws snapped her arm. Daphne shrieked more out of fear than pain. More dogs clamped down on her. Next, she was down on the ground, kicking her legs and screaming in the dark and the snouts and teeth were on her in seconds.
Then, as fast as they were at her, they pulled away. The dogs went back to their standby positions. A slight moment of instinct overwhelming orders. Daphne lay on her back, stiff as a board. She didn't move, she didn't make a sound, her eyes marbled around in her head for no reason. To get her moving, one of the dogs lurched its head forward, letting out a growl so low that she felt it as a vibration in her chest. Then she was back on her hands and knees again, moving much faster now.
As time passed, the fear started to have a numbing effect on her. It seemed like she had been crawling in the dark mass of monsters forever. The only thing she could be sure of was that she was slowly descending. A terrible consideration crept into her mind. Maybe she was dead already, and slowly sinking into hell. Maybe this was how a person went to hell. Maybe this was already hell, crawling on your stomach through blood and shit for eternity, and all the while, beasts were ready to tear you apart. She couldn't resist anymore, and cried the rest of her crawl. The dogs didn't care.
It was metal. Her fingers felt around it. It was jagged all along the sides. She knew that it was a hole ripped through a metal tube, maybe the ventilation shaft from some room. It was torn open into the dirt for a tunnel to be dug the rest of the way. The hole was large -- it had to be for an army of dogs to race through. She pulled herself though the metal gap into a modified shaft. The bottom was the original metal but the rest had obviously been removed to enlarge the duct. A short distance, she found an opening, and then she was in a large warm space.
She could hear the pipes and the furnace. She was in the boiler room of one of the buildings. She had crawled too far for it to belong to the hotel.
She could have been anywhere. She could have been in a building that didn't even exist anymore, buried a hundred feet down below the dirt of a landslide for all she knew. Dogs were everywhere, sleeping on top of each other. There was hardly any room except for a path cleared that led to a door. Daphne stretched herself back to standing position. She walked down the grimy path, occasionally spotting an artifact of humanity -- a broom handle, an empty whiskey bottle, things left over from before he modified it. She reached the door.
Without waiting, Daphne opened it. She knew she was expected.
There were candles lit, just enough to give the black crusted walls a tint of burnt umber. It stank worse here than anywhere she'd ever been. She thought she was going to faint.
She walked further into the room, taking in more of her surroundings. Bones and rotted meat piled at random spots. Urine and other waste heaped in all the corners. Only a few dogs were here, sleeping in key locations around the chamber. These were larger than the others, clearly the picks of the litter, the lieutenants. They were stationed in front of a pile of human remains and old boxes that made a makeshift desk in almost the center of the office. Daphne stepped up to the desk and waited.
At first she didn't notice it, but then she heard a slight sucking sound. She looked in the far corner, and sitting there was something in the dark. She could make out a man holding a large bone.
He was naked. He wasn't muscular, but long in the limbs. His hair was cut short to the scalp, haphazardly, as if he did it himself with whatever sharp object he could find. There were scars and purplish brown scabs all over his head and face. The rest of the hair on his body was intact, matted, caked with muck.
He was quietly gnawing on the end of a human rib, watching her. He was probably watching her the whole time. He tossed the rib to the side and approached, on his hands and knees, to the desk. He lifted his torso up, and sat like a man, reclining with his back and arms against a pile of meat behind him. He stretched his legs out in both directions, exposing himself proudly.
Daphne spoke: "Are you Mayor Parson?"
He bared his teeth and growled, just like one of his dogs. She could see that in place of normal teeth he had a set of jagged, chaotic fangs. And his teeth hadn't merely been filed down; it looked like his own teeth had been removed and dog teeth had been sewn into his gums. She could see the stitches still there, protruding from healed, strong matter.
Daphne swallowed. "I want to leave. I won't tell anyone about this place. You can let me go." The mayor seemed unimpressed, rolling his tongue over his permanent dentures. Daphne realized that she hadn't exactly thought this far, and had nothing to run with.
She went to the only weapon in her arsenal. "Please." She cooed softly and sexually, rubbing her hand over her thrust out hip and legs. "Couldn't you just let me go? You really don't want to hurt me, do you?"
He stared at her, not saying anything.
"Please," she whispered, fluttered her eyes slightly, traced her fingers over her breast.
The mayor leaned forward, and planted one hand onto the desk, then the other. He was climbing over to Daphne.
Daphne started to back away. She had made a bad mistake.
"Um, I -- I --"
Soon he was on his hind legs, shoving her back against the wall.
"No -- wait --"
He grabbed her and spun her around, shoving her face against the wall. She saw him in the corner of her eye, crouching down. He was sniffing her backside.
"No, look, please -- I know you can understand me --"
His hands took her by the thighs and pulled, yanking her lower half out from under her. Smacking her face against the wall, she fell to her stomach. Before she could respond, the mayor while clawing at her clothes.
Daphne didn't know what to do. She was afraid to scream or fight. She knew she would be torn apart. She could see the dogs at the desk all were on their feet, now panting and slobbering. She could see the dogs out in the other room, watching. All alert to the scent. She felt terrified and stunned and weak. She couldn't think fast enough.
Then she saw that the dogs were cautiously approaching as they panted. And a terrible new thought hit her.
What if they all get a shot?
She spun her body around, kicking one leg up. Not expecting the sudden resistance, the mayor was caught off guard, struck in the face. He fell to the side. She was quickly on her feet, grabbing the jagged piece of bone that had floated in and out of her vision over the course of the romance. As he was climbing up, Daphne plunged it into his stomach. Blood fired out in a large explosion like she had burst a water balloon, and the mayor was on the floor, screaming in pain and confusion.
Yanking the bone out, Daphne took it with her as she ran out the door, away from the prime dogs who gave chase. She ran into the boiler room where the other hounds were falling all over each other trying to get at her. The ones who were stationed right at the entrance did get a few hits in, slashing her with their claws, and almost knocking her over. But unlike Charlie, who had made the mistake of standing still as he tried to fight them off, Daphne was in motion, charging ahead, and this momentum kept her on her feet. She rammed through the mess, swinging her bloodied weapon.
She headed to the far left corner where a door out of the boiler room most likely would've been. Dogs can dig tunnels, but it was doubtful they could seal ones.
Sure enough there was an exit there. Some dogs and garbage in front of it, but not enough to stop her. She ripped through everything in a frenzy, her eyes closed most of the time, until she felt the door in front of her. She opened her eyes long enough to see the handle, said the quickest prayer she ever said, and pulled.
A staircase was there, a beautiful clean staircase. Pearly gates couldn't have made them look any better. She ran through the door, trying to pull it closed behind her, but there were too many dogs trying to force their way past. She kicked a great many heads before she could slam the thing shut, and run up the staircase. She arrived at the first of the staircase’s landings when she heard the door open behind her. The mayor had breached the way, and was scaling the steps, followed by his pack. His mouth was wide open, and he left bloody, dripping handprints on everything he touched.
Daphne ran up the steps to another door at the top. She fled through that one, finding herself in a hallway. There were a dozen or so doors on both sides of the hall in front of her and one door on the wall right behind her with an exit sign over the top.
After a very short moment of deliberation, Daphne was out into a back alley. There were walls on all sides blocking any escape. They were too high to scale, but there was also a manhole cover.
The cover came off easily, or maybe it was just her adrenaline. She was down in the dark, dashing through an even bigger tube of waste and garbage. The dogs could be heard yowling behind her. She ran through the maze until a gate blocked her path.
She thrust her shoulder between two bars and began squeezing her body through. She was already ripped up and bleeding, and the rusted bars scratched and pulled at every flowing tear in her skin.
The barking was louder by the second. She could hear the splashing as they approached. Daphne rocked her body violently back and forth, trying to get herself through the bars. She didn't care that she was screaming like a maniac at this point.
Her body made it an inch further, and an inch further, and a little more.
The dogs had to be right on her. She couldn't see but could hear.
An inch more, and a little biiiiiiiiiiit.
Her torso was through, now the legs.
The legs were through.
Quick, get your head through. It's stuck! Get! It! Through!
A pair of wet hands grabbed her head.
A scream, and she yanked. She pulled with everything she had left. She was either pulling her head through the bars, or off her neck.
Thankfully, it was the former.
She barely noticed the pain as a chunk of her scalp tore free. She hit the ground, and continued running. Halfway down the tunnel, she turned behind her. The mayor and his pack were trapped behind the gate, unable to fit though. She could see him staring at her and barking, flapping his head up and down, his canine teeth -- all of them -- clear as day.
It was an hour later before Daphne found a way out of the storm pipe into a stream at the bottom of a canyon. It was about another hour or so later before she found herself back on the highway still smelling of shit and blood. She was hungry and tired, but didn't care. She hadn't seen any trace of Cedarville or its people, and hopefully she wouldn't have to. She couldn't imagine the police would need her to attend a line up for that character after she would alert them to what was going on. She wondered what would happen to the rest of the town. She had only seen two of the inhabitants, but there had to be more innocent people there, trapped. They would probably need a convoy of white vans waiting at the gates.
Daphne’s stomach grumbled again. She was sure that sooner or later she would hit a normal town with a phone. A phone was all she needed. She could call her parents to send money, send a ride. Simple things would be waiting for her. A large meal, a hot bath. A soft bed.
And the want ads.
© 2006 by Joseph Jude
Bio: Mr. Jude tells us: " I am a writer and filmmaker, currently part of the theatrical group Never Odd Or Even Productions. I have a BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and am a winner of the Spokane Film Festival Drama Award for my short Lip Service. I have also contributed on a number of independent projects such as Louis Galli’s Turned and The Potchki Chronicles, and have had work appear in the AngelCiti International Film and Music Market, published in collections A Time To Be Free, Time After Time and at Poetry.COM."
E-mail: Joseph Jude
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