Read The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories Online

Authors: Aaron Polson

Tags: #collection, #dark fantasy, #fantasy, #ghost story, #horror, #monsters, #nightmare, #short story, #terror, #zombies

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories (7 page)


Babe, if they’re religious
zealots, they probably aren’t used to seeing hot numbers like you.
Really.” Jimmy leaned over and kissed her on the neck. Maggie
pushed him away and flashed a tepid smile.


Look, we’re almost there,”
Jimmy announced. He straightened in his seat and peered into the
cone produced by the headlights. “We still on for that dark, quiet
spot?”


I’ll think about it,”
Maggie muttered, crossing her arms across her chest. She couldn't
shake the crawling sensation of the boys’ eyes on her
back.


See, safe and sound,”
Jimmy said as the headlights lit up the yellow sign at the end of
North 1800. “I’ll just thank them, and we’re off.”


Jimmy, don't
….”


Just a quickie. They
really helped us out of a jam.”

Jimmy stepped out of the car.

Maggie stared at her feet for a moment,
looked at Jimmy's open door, and slowly brought her gaze to the
window next to her. A flat, leering face with bloodshot eyes and
stretched, chapped lips floated an inch from the window.


You're purdy,” the face
gibbered, its voice muffled and cold. Maggie let out a small gasp,
quickly turned away from the window, and reached for the door lock.
Her thumb flicked the switch, but the lock wouldn’t cooperate with
Jimmy’s door hanging open.

Jimmy poked his head into
the car. “Hey, Maggie. This guy owns a ‘57 Chevy—stock
everything
. They other
guys have nice rides, too. Vintage. They say I should come out
sometime, race with them.”


That’s nice, Jimbo. Once
you get that old jalopy of yours running again, anyway.” Maggie’s
voice crawled with sarcasm. “Can we
go
?” she implored. She heard a
slight scratching sound.

Outside Maggie’s door, pale fingers felt for
the handle.


Yeah. Just a sec.” Jimmy’s
face vanished again, but Maggie still heard his voice. “Look, is
there anything we can do to thank you?”

Maggie’s door popped open, and she nearly
collapsed in the mud. She would have, if not for the strong arms
that caught her. She plucked at them with her fingertips, feeling
cold, wormy flesh—they way she imagined the white belly of a
catfish would feel just after it was pulled from the river.

Maggie’s mouth dropped open, but no sound
escaped, as a rotten hand slipped across her lips. Another set of
hands moved over her body, and she squirmed against the invasion.
Jimmy's face was pale in the darkness, and she only saw him in
profile as the arms dragged her into the thick, swishing grass
around the ditch.


You see, buddy,” Dan said
to Jimmy, once Maggie was several yards away, “we’ve been out here
a long time. Too long, really. Your girl there … she’s pretty.
Earl, Lonnie, me—we’ve been dead a long time, but those urges just
don’t go away. It’s real lonely out here.”

Jimmy turned to the car, and caught a
glimpse of Maggie’s flailing feet as Dan’s greasy companions pulled
her further into the grass. His stomach dropped, his heart throbbed
frantically, and something big and hard crashed against the back of
his head.

Dan stood over him holding a rusty tire
iron. He bent down, breathing his filth on Jimmy's prone form.
“Don’t worry, buddy,” he sneered. “We’ll take real good care of
her.” Then, he raised the tire iron, and cracked it repeatedly
against Jimmy’s skull, until blood and brain matter leaked out.

When he finished, he dragged Jimmy’s body to
the ditch and joined his friends across the road.

And so, the Old Flat Mile filled its belly
on hot, young blood once again, while its children enjoyed a feast
of their own.

6: The Eyes Have It

Calvin sat at his computer with his face
bent toward the flat screen, watching as an arrangement of glowing
dots came together in the image of a young woman. Her body jutted
from a car door at a queer angle, and dark streaks marred her face.
The car was inverted, flipped upside down, and resting in a patch
of mud. The woman was dead, and this was merely a photograph, a
digital copy of the corpse. Calvin found something intoxicating
about her eyes and guided the cursor to her face, enlarging the
image with a few clicks.

Those eyes were blue, electric,
addictive.

The doorbell sent a quick
jab into Calvin’s ear. He closed the image and hurried to the door,
surprised by a visitor on a Wednesday night. Gina worked on
Wednesday’s, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else who cared enough
to make a personal visit to the
Sentinal
’s photographer at home,
especially after ten.
The
wreck
, he thought,
must be the cops.
He shoved his
camera bag behind a chair.

Calvin opened the door, and noticed Gina’s
eyes were rimmed with red. She held her hands bunched in front and
shuddered slightly before opening her mouth. “I quit, Cal. The
boss, Brad…he made a pass. Touched me. I pushed him and ran
out.”


C’mon.” He pulled Gina
inside, glanced into the night, and shut the door with a hearty
click. She crumpled against his chest, sobbing
. That son-of-a-bitch
, he thought,
wrapping Gina’s shoulders with his arms. Calvin had never like
Brad, his roving eyes and plastic smile. “It’ll be
okay…”

Calvin lay awake, listening
to Gina’s breath as she slept next to him. He stared at the
ceiling, but thought of the blue eyes in the photo. They had
penetrated his lens and pulled his camera—one of those pictures
that found him. Those eyes
found
him; they
whispered
to him. He was first at
the scene of the wreck; the car lay in a ditch as he made his way
home from a high school basketball game. Calvin had been the first
to call the police.

The dead eyes screamed from across the room.
He propped his head under one arm, and turned slightly toward Gina.
The thin comforter rose gently with her breath. Calvin forced his
brain to conjure her face. He tried to find her cheeks, the gentle
curving slope of her chin, her swollen lips, and brown eyes, but
the dead girl stared back at him instead, blocking everything in
her blue gaze. His head began to ache, a dull, growing pain that
squeezed against his skull. The whisper rose again, something
white, nearly subliminal, but a voice. He rolled over and smashed
his head under a pillow, trying to chase away the whisper.


You’ll just have to move
in.”

Calvin cobbled together his
world-famous omelets while Gina leaned on his kitchen counter. She
wore an old t-shirt, a knock off from
Animal House
that simply read
“COLLEGE” in block letters. After a small sigh, she said, “Cal,
that’s sweet, really. But…”


But what? I’ve got a
steady job. A little
too
steady maybe.” He glanced past Gina to the desk
and his camera bag stuffed behind the chair. “We can make this
work. You could start back at school—finish your degree.” He
shifted the omelet with a flick of his wrist.

Gina closed her eyes and sighed. “I’ll pay
rent, okay. And clean up a bit around here…earn my keep.” She
pushed a dirty bowl across the counter to the sink. “Somebody has
to.”

Calvin slid her omelet onto a plate. “If you
want toast, the bread’s over by the ‘fridge.” He turned back to the
stove, cracking two more eggs with a swift motion. “That was me
ignoring your not-so-subtle jab, by the way.”

She slid around the counter and wormed
between Calvin and the stovetop. “Thank you.”

He dropped the spatula on the counter and
laid hands on either side of her face, trying to burn the deep
mahogany of her irises into his brain. “I love you, okay? Now move
before my eggs burn.”

Before he left for work that morning, he
rummaged inside the top drawer of his desk, pushing away old pens
and broken pencils until he found an old pocketknife. The blue
handle was scratched, and the blade quite dull, but Calvin wrapped
it in his hand and pushed it into the depths of his camera bag.

As one of only two
photographers on the
Sentinel
staff, Calvin enjoyed the freedom to roam
Springdale during his on-duty hours. A quick tag over his cell
phone, and he could be anywhere he was needed in a matter of
minutes. The small town life suited him fine—he’d never work too
hard and still carry an air of celebrity.
Medium
fish in a tiny
pond
. Not wanting any interruptions,
Calvin clicked off his phone when he entered the city morgue that
morning.


Well, well, Lenny. I can
always count on my favorite minimum wage earning mortician’s
assistant to be sitting on his ass.” Calvin worked up his best
Cheshire grin.

Thin and pale and wearing a weak goatee,
Lenny dropped his feet from the desk and eyed Calvin. “Shit. You
gonna get me in trouble again?”


Me? You’re kidding,
right?” Calvin pulled a twenty-dollar-bill from his pocket and
folded it in the palm of his hand. “How much laundry did you have
to do at your mom’s place to save up for that jersey?” Calvin
slipped the bill into Lenny’s boney grip.


Screw you. This is vintage
Magic Johnson. Got it on eBay for a steal. It’s all about timing,
knowing what to look for.” Lenny smiled, a weak curling of his lips
just above the beard. “Looking for anybody special
today?”


The girl…the Jane Doe…from
the wreck yesterday.”


She’s cold fish man.
Tragic, she was kind of hot.”

Calvin teased him with wide eyes and a
mock-shocked expression.


Dude, you’re a freak—I’d
never, you know…” Lenny popped off an obscene gesture. “You’ve got
ten minutes. She’s in 14A.”

Calvin nodded and waited for the buzz before
opening the doors to the morgue cooler. He wore a light jacket with
a flannel shirt underneath, but the air poked through with icy
fingers. The chill and a sickly lemon-lime glow to the lights
really set Calvin’s fight or flight ticker humming. He had to see
the body, look at those eyes again, and exercise the blue-eyed
demon.


14A. Hello, honey, I’m
home,” Calvin joked to bolster his own flagging courage. With a
quick click and then steady whirr, the drawer slid out. Blue Eyes
was there, under the plastic. He peeled back just enough to see her
icy face, an unnatural field of frigid grey. Her eyelids swelled a
dark indigo in the shadows.

Calvin’s fingers quivered slightly before he
touched her eyelids. Pinching one between forefinger and thumb, he
pushed up gently, just enough to see the eye. It was lifeless now,
drained of the hum and electricity from his photo. Curiosity worked
magic in his fingers, and the thumb grew courageous, touching the
cold surface of her dead eye. A hum grew around him in the cooler,
a whisper that wasn’t quite the sound of the compressor or
fans.

He closed his eyes for a moment and jerked
from the body, quickly pulling the shroud over the young face and
snapping 14A home. Calvin shivered, pulled his jacket around his
neck, and hurried from the room. Later, he would remember the touch
as a slight buzz—merely a pop of static electricity.

Calvin and Gina sat at the kitchen table
that evening, poking at cardboard take-out boxes from The Happy
Dragon, a flagging Chinese restaurant in a town where burgers and
fries were considered fine cuisine. Gina tried to catch Calvin’s
eye, but he avoided her, lost in his own thoughts and cringing at
the growing pain in his skull—another headache.


I interviewed for a couple
of positions today. One is with a vet here in town. I thought,
maybe, if it works out I could try school again. Finish my
bachelor’s at least, then see what happens.”

Calvin glanced over the lid of a container,
scratching the back of one hand. “Sounds great.” He winced as he
spoke, and his voice was stale. His head throbbed again. “Why are
we using spoons?”

Gina frowned. “The forks are dirty. Sorry, I
forgot—”

The phone buzzed, and Calvin sprang from the
table before the first ring was a memory.


Hello.”


Hi Calvin, this is Maryann
Spader. Is Gina around? I can’t seem to get her at her place.” He
looked at Gina and mouthed,
it’s your
mom
.

She shook her head.


Um, she’s not here,”
Calvin said, frowning at his girlfriend.


Could you, um, tell her to
call me,” Maryann said on the other end, her voice somewhat thick
and slow.


Alright, I’ll let her
know.” Calvin clicked the receiver home and returned to the table.
“You haven’t told your folks?”

Gina’s mouth crawled into a little smile.
“I…wasn’t ready, yet. I don’t want them to freak.”

Calvin’s knuckles whitened as he clutched
his spoon. He closed his eyes, and his neck tensed. “Are you
ashamed of me, that it?” he snapped.

Gina recoiled. “No…Calvin.” Her weak smile
vanished under a hurt frown. “What’s with you?”


What’s with me? My live-in
is hiding the truth—”

The phone rang again, truncating his rant.
Calvin pushed away from the table, glowering at Gina. He snapped
the phone off the cradle. “What?”


Whoa, ace. What’s up your
ass?” Lenny asked on the other end.

Calvin sighed and tucked the receiver on his
shoulder. He glanced back at Gina. “Nothing. Nothing. Sorry, just a
little domestic squabble.” Gina walked away from the table. “What’s
up?”

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