Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Featured Creature: The Night Thing

Here we have a strange winged denizen of the night. Once I'd inked this piece, I didn't care for the flame hair, but it was already integrated in the drawing.  However, in Photoshop I was able to remove it.  When I began adding the tones, a seed of a story came to me.  It didn't take long for it to explode into a full short story, but I haven't gotten it to a finished state just yet.  Expect an update with the full story soon.

Here is the beginning of the story:

The Night Thing

Ricky leaned over to the grilled speaker opening, "That'll be $11.47, Frank."

He turned the latch and pushed the drawer out.  Two fives, a one, and several coins clanged in the drawer.  Ricky smiled and scooped up the money.  After doing a quick count, he replaced it with the six pack of Milwaukee's best and a pack of Basic 100's ultralight.  Frank grabbed his loot and cupped it to him like a mother with her newborn.  Ricky filed the bills and coins and slid the cash drawer shut with his hip as he turned back to the window.  He cringed.  The metal on metal of drawer bell always made his teeth tingle like he'd licked a Nine Volt battery.

"Have a good night Fra - nnk," but Frank was gone.  Frank's silence never bothered him.  Ricky chuckled as he watched him scuttle back to his truck.  Poor Frank loved his wife Helen but he loved his beer too. Helen loved Frank, but Helen could not abide the Devil's drink in her home.

Every Monday, Frank danced this silent dance.  He always picked up a six pack on the way home from his shift at the plant and hid it in the small fridge he kept in his wood shop.  Every Monday Ricky watched the strange play of guilt on Frank's face and felt compassionate pity for him.  He thought as well, Thank God I'm single.

Frank was usually Ricky's last customer on Monday nights.  Sunday and Monday third shift were dead zones at the Highway Fourteen Save-N-Go.  He probably wouldn't see another soul until just before sunrise.  Most days it didn't bother him, but occasionally Ricky wanted someone to talk with.  Frank always got off at 11:30 so it must have been just after midnight when the haggard man with the beard came banging on the door.


{Sharpie and Uni-ball Vision Elite Pen with tones added in Adobe Photoshop}

UPDATE 02.13.13: The Night Thing Part II

Ricky began sweeping.  Margaret had left him a long list of cleaning duties to be done by morning.  The store was being reviewed next Wednesday and Margaret always wanted the store cleaner than a new car on review day.  That always meant more work for Ricky: clean behind the shelving units, dust every surface, reorganize the freezer, sweep and mop twice during shifts.  Margaret was generally a relaxed manager, she even let him wear his earphones on third shift, but when a review was coming around, she became a relentless bitch.

He was halfway down the candy isle when he heard a thump.  He pulled one of his earphones out and looked towards drawer window for customers.  No one was there.  He heard the clack of the front door being tried and then several bangs in a row.  He rolled his eyes and moved towards the door.  Company policy was that the doors were locked at eleven and he was tired of endlessly explaining to the drunks driving home from the Moon Dog Bar further down on highway fourteen.  He moved quickly to the door and glared at the haggard man on the other side.

The man was almost a head shorter than Ricky and very dirty.  His eyes were wet as though he'd been crying.  He was wearing a long black coat that may have been a trench at one point but now was a tattered rag.  His hair and beard were long and as shaggy as the coat and neither had been washed in some time.  The man had both his hands on the door handles and was tugging hard at them.  His knuckles were white with effort and eyes were wild.  As he banged the door, he kept looking back over his shoulder into the night.  Ricky reached into his apron and grabbed the store phone, showing it to the man.

"Mister.  Mister!  HEY!  You're gonna have to stop that or I'm gonna call the sheriff's office."

"Please let me in.  You've got to LET ME IN!!!"

" M'Sorry Man.  Not gonna happen!  Company policy is doors are locked after 11.  Take your hands off the door or I'm calling the Sheriff - I'm serious."  The man clinched his eyes and made a loud nasal exhale, but removed his hands.  He turned away then, mumbling, but through the glass Ricky could not hear him clearly.  It sounded like, "They wouldn't be able to help me anyway."  The man rushed to the edge of the gas pumps, looked up and around, and came back.  His steps were jittery and fast, like a squirrel.

The man returned to the door.  He was shaking.  The man's eyes rolled nervously as he spoke as though he were examining something in the air between them.  Ricky activated the store phone and prepared to dial 911.  The haggard man closed his eyes and held his hands up at shoulder level facing Ricky.  He took several deep breaths.  The change was dramatic and instantaneous.  The man stopped shaking and even his wild hair seemed to settle somewhat.  He opened his eyes again, now clear and steady, and stared intently at Ricky.

"Do you have - uhm -  salt?  One of those cylinder containers of salt?  You know the kind that pours."  Ricky looked blankly at the man.  "Salt!!" the man spat out,"Please!"

"I think so, I'll go check, but you gotta promise me you won't bang on the door no more."  he glared at Ricky then as though he were acting like an unreasonable child.

"I promise."  the man turned to face the night as Ricky moved back down the isle.  "-please hurry." the man whimpered.

"Found it!"  Ricky deactivated the phone as he grabbed the container of salt and moved back towards the door.

"Two!  Bring Two! " the man yelled.  With a huff, Ricky turned back and grabbed a second container.  He moved behind the register and the Man's face dropped in horror.  "What are you doing?  Please!"

"Dude you gotta come over to the window.  I told ya, I can't open the doors."
 The man took several more deep breaths and edged towards the window, facing away from the building as he moved.  He kept looking towards the sky.  The window was just beyond the edge of the covered area for the gas pumps.  Ricky thought from the man's face, it looked as though he thought it were made of lava.

When the man finally reached the window his teeth were chattering and he was shaking again.  He dropped several wadded bills into the drawer.  "hurry. hurry. hurry. hurry."  Ricky rolled his eyes at the man and put the salt in the drawer.  It was too early in the evening for this much crazy.  He looked down and puzzled.  The man had given him a fifty and a twenty.  He began to unfold the twenty and dropped it with a start.  It was covered in fresh blood.

The man suddenly jerked his head away as though he heard someone call his name.  He became very still and quiet.  Facing away from Ricky, he awkwardly angled his arm and slowly reached into the drawer for the salt.  Ricky noticed then three long parallel cuts on the man's forearm.  The sound came again almost immediately, growing louder. Ricky heard it too now, like ice water pouring down his neck, a shrill reverberating cry like the howls of mating cats. 


UPDATE 02.18.13:  The Night Thing Part III

"What the hell was that?!?" Ricky asked, but the man was gone, moved back under the covered area in front of the doors.  The man turned in a circle several times and poured the salt around him until one whole container was empty.  He tossed the container away and closing his eyes, began chanting.  It might have been Latin or maybe Spanish, but Ricky wasn't sure.  The howl came again.  Closer.  This time it extended into what sounded like a bird call, but deeper and almost clicking.

The man was struggling to open the second container.  Ricky could see fresh tears on the his cheeks.  He tore the metal funnel off and poured some the salt over himself, still chanting.  From somewhere within his tattered coat, the man presented a large silver medallion.  It was the size of a small saucer and he seemed to struggle to keep hold of it with his small hand.  He held the medallion in his right hand and with his left he gestured upwards then drew his hand down to touch the circle of salt.  He turned and repeated this four times.

Ricky saw something.  A huge black shape moved at the edge of the lights circling the parking lot.  It looked like a tall man in a hooded cloak of some sort.  It lunged about within the shadow then to Ricky's shock, the figure seemed to open the cloak and lift off into the sky.  Ricky backed away from the window.  He could still hear the raggedy man's chanting, but it had become repetitive.  The man was facing the direction where the hooded figure had been.  He was making strange gestures with his free hand as he presented the medallion with the other.  A strong wind had suddenly come up and the man's hair danced around his head in thick dark strands.  He continued to chant over and over, his eyes wide and staring.  The man's voice became deep and resonate, causing the windows of the store to vibrate in harmony.  Somewhere in the parking lot, the weird cat cry turned into a shriek.  That's when Ricky noticed the headlights of a car pulling into the lot.

The haggard man turned to face the car as well, still chanting, still wielding the medallion like a gun.  No sooner had he turned than a great shadow covered the car.  A swath of inky black, blocking the headlights and covering most of the hood.  The car swerved towards the pumps, then it was lifted straight up into the night sky.  As it rose, it tilted at an angle and the beams of its headlights jaggedly danced across the parking lot.

Ricky leaned forward to the window.  He couldn't see past the roof, but he needn't have looked for mere seconds later the car came crashing down opposite the ragged man and just at the edge of the pumps.  Glass flew across the concrete and the car frame crunched in on itself, compacting the vehicle.  One of headlights burst free of it casing and still attached, cast its light in wild arcs.  The man inside the salt circle did not flinch, but turned to face the fallen car.  Some of the glass had grazed his face and left thin lines of blood, but he continued to chant.  The thing that had lifted the car continued to shriek.

Suddenly at the edge of the lot, one of the street lights exploded in a shower of sparks.  Seconds later on the opposite side of the lot another exploded.  Each was punctuated with the shriek of the hooded figure.  The hairs on Ricky's arms and neck stood on end and he realized then that his face was covered in tears.  Two more lights exploded and now only the building remained lit.  A small glowing pool in a sea of night.  Just then the car door opened and the man inside fell out onto the concrete in a heap.  In the back of his mind, Ricky thanked God it was no one from town, just a stranger from the highway.

The man's neck and arms were bleeding and his cheeks were pink and flushed from the airbag.  It hung behind him in a huge deflating pile.  Using the door for support, the man managed to get on his feet and stand.  He looked at Ricky and then the man with the medallion.  He screamed.  A huge black shaped crossed the space under the covered area and enveloped him.  His scream faded as he disappeared into the night.  It became disjointed and gurgling as it faded, then stopped completely.

The man within salt circle slumped and the wind died down.  He lowered his arms and sat.  His hair returned to its previous torpor. Ricky grabbed his ring of keys and rushed to the door.  He fumbled through the mass of metal for the door keys.  He turned the latch and began to open the door.


UPDATE 02.28.13: The Night Thing Part IV

"STOP!"  The man in the circle raised his hand flatly towards Ricky but did not look towards him.  Ricky looked at him wide eyed, questioning.  "It has not left us.  Stay inside.  Lock the door."  Ricky slowly closed the door and locked it once again.  He slumped to the floor. He and the ragged man sat in silence for a long while.  The ragged man had assumed a meditative stance and had closed his eyes.  Ricky scanned the darkness beyond for any sign of movement.  His jaw was tight and his teeth chattered lightly like he were cold.

"Whu-What is that thing?" Ricky finally asked.

"It is a demon.  Loosed from its infernal cage by a foolish man."  The ragged man did not open his eyes.  "It is just playing with me."

"Playing?!?" Ricky laughed and sobbed a little simultaneously.  "Is-is it gonna come after me n-next?"

"Most likely not.  It doesn't care for human constructions.  I believe because there is too much metal and electricity built into the structure.  It would have to come inside to get you and it will not do that.  It is me that the creature wants.  Just remain inside the building and I believe you will remain safe."

Ricky saw movement near the road.  Someone was walking, or rather stumbling, into the parking lot.  As the figure stepped into the light, Ricky saw that it was the man from the car.  Ricky stood and moved to unlock the door.  The ragged man opened his eyes and looked intensely at Ricky.

"STOP.  No matter what follows, you must not open that door."

"But he -"

"Is dead already.  This is merely a ploy of the beast.  ON YOUR LIFE, Do not open that door.  PROMISE.  NOW!"  The ragged man stood up.

"I won't open it."  Ricky whimpered.

As the man from the car stumbled closer, Ricky could see his throat and chest were covered with blood.  He stumbled about as if he were drunk.  The ragged man took several deep breaths and presented the medallion at chest height once more.  Through the glass, Ricky could hear the deep vibrato of his humming.

The man from the car moved closer.  He reached towards the building like an infant seeking succor.  His pants were shredded, showing the same cuts on his legs as on the forearm of the ragged man.  When he reached the edge of the covered area, Ricky saw his mouth was working repeatedly.  Through the glass he could hear the man's whistling attempt at speech, repeating the same sound over and over like a whimpering puppy, "Eeees.  Eeees.  Eeees.  Eeees."  A long strand of spit and blood hung down to his chest.  His lip was torn.  Ricky watched his mouth.  His tongue was missing.  Ricky sobbed.

Just then a shadow emerged from behind the tongueless man.  A large clawed hand encircled the man's neck and held him in place.  The man's eyes widened with panic, seeming to extend beyond the range of his eyelids.  He struggled weakly, trying to scream, but it came out only as a weak rasp.  The shadow lifted the man and shook him like a doll until he lay still and quiet in its grip.  The man's breath came in visible gasps as blood continued to drip from his wounded mouth.  From within the shadow a face emerged.  It's head was twice the size of the man's and feline with cruel dead eyes.  It stared directly at the man in the salt circle and slowly licked the blood from the face of the tongueless man.

The man in the circle continued his vibrato humming and raised the medallion higher for the creature to see.  In response, the creature squeezed the neck of the tongueless man and his rasp scream turned into a real one.  The tongueless man struggled against the grip of the shadow creature.  His arms and legs flailed about as he continued to scream in desperate gasps.

The ragged man reached into his coat again and revealed a large dagger.  He leveled it at the creature as he began chanting once more.  The phrasing was different this time, but Ricky recognized one word, "Lux."  Ricky felt an odd sensation building in the pit of his stomach and the hairs on his arms stood up.  The ragged man was screaming his chant now and the wind had returned.  The tongueless man went limp and silent.  Suddenly the dagger glowed a pale blue and a bolt of electricity shot out of it, hitting the shadowed creature in the chest.  The thing dropped the tongueless man and braced against the onslaught.

In the flashing light, Ricky saw its full figure for the first time.  It was easily as tall as two men with a mixture of feline and human anatomy.  What Ricky had mistaken for a cloak was the bat like wings that extended under each of it's arms.  Two tails whipped the air behind, curling and flexing in anger.  It had dangerous looking claws on its hands and feet.  The thing shrieked as the lightning bolt began to burn into it.  Ricky covered his ears.  Smaller bolts began began to arc off the larger one, hitting the nearby concrete, then the fluorescent lights of the covered area.  All the lights surged bright with the added power and the entire building seemed to be shaking in tandem with the ragged man's chant. 

Everything exploded at once.

Light bulbs shattered in a rain of glass and sparks and half the underside of the pump cover ripped away as the bolt fried the wiring.  The feedback traveled inside the store as well.  The freezer doors flew open as the bulbs in the door edges burst.  Several of the light covers in the ceiling slammed to the floor followed by showers of electric fireflies.  The telephone in Ricky's apron sent shocks of spasm into his hip.  He frantically fished it out and flung it across the store.  The Marlboro sign above the cash register went off with a Fourth of July style circle of shooting sparks and a loud boom.  The neon OPEN sign disintegrated in a rain of splinters, shattering the main window and sending glass flying into the parking lot. Ricky squatted down and brought his arms up to cover himself.

He remained crouched for a long time until the buzzing in his stomach subsided.  When he finally looked up again, the creature was gone and the man in the salt circle was slumped to the ground once more.  All around glass fell and clinked.  A thick haze floated through the store and out where the main window used to be.  Outside, a single fluorescent light clung to electric life.  Dangling from a mess of wires, it slowly twirled and strobed, bathing the covered area in staccato flashes.  The air was heavy with the smell of ozone.  Ricky realized that the tongueless man was still breathing.  Small favors, he thought.

Ricky rested against the door, letting it support him.  He saw then, just beyond the remaining fluorescent, a pair of eyes blink once and disappear.  He heard the heavy whoosh of the creature taking flight.  It landed just beside the tongueless man.  Inside the salt circle, the ragged man did not move.  He turned to face the beast through the glass.  It was looking directly at him as it grabbed the tongueless man by the foot and dragged him into the darkness.  "No, no, no, no, no- noooo!"  Ricky banged on the door to wake the ragged man, but it was too late.  The tongueless man's screams were punctuated by a wet crunching noise, then silence.

Distant, but growing stronger, Ricky heard the whine of police sirens.  He leaned into the window.  At the far end of Highway Fourteen he could see the lights flashing and moving closer.  The ragged man attempted to stand once more, swaying with exhaustion.  He slipped as he stood though, bringing his foot down upon the edge of the circle and leaving a clean break in the line of salt.  He looked up at Ricky.  His startled expression merged into a molten black blur and he was gone.

The ragged man's screams melted into the keening of police sirens until the two became one.  Ricky looked at the broken circle for a long time, fresh tears soaking his face and shirt.  He wondered absently what he was going to tell the Police.  He wondered how he could ever feel safe again.  Then he saw it, at the edge of the flickering defeated light, a glint off the rim of a silver medallion.



UPDATE 092513:

It is never truly the end I suppose.  The story of Ricky Barrett and the strange silver disc continues in another Featured Creature post, The Disc of Abrasax.  If you enjoyed this piece of fiction, please check it out.  Thanks for reading and viewing!

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