Interlude: Consumed

A man quickly figures out why he’s being pursued, leading him to realize he was already dead.

“There he is!” The man in the black suit pointed at the hapless businessman. Black Suit’s partner whistled shrilly. Three more agents emerged out of the crowds and moved towards the businessman.

“I don’t know what the hell I did!” The businessman put his hands in the air. One of the agents fired off two shots. The man screamed in fear and ran off into the alley behind him.

He pulled his tie loose as he ran. He was too old, or at least too fat, to be running like this. He slunk into an adjacent alley and hunkered down, breathing hard.

He wiped sweat from his brow and grimaced. He rolled up his right sleeve and scratched fervently at the raised red patch on his arm. “This fucking rash,” he said under his breath.

He whipped his head up at the sound of approaching footfalls. He struggled to his feet and threw himself down the side alley. Somebody yelled out behind him. “There he is!” Several shots zinged by on either side of him.

“I didn’t do anything! Leave me alone!” The agents answered with more bullets. “I’m gonna die.” He gritted his teeth and pushed the heel of his hand into his chest.

His throat was on fire, and so was his arm. He coughed violently. He spared a look behind him. The men in black were gone. He instinctively pushed himself up against one of the walls in the alley.

The businessman gasped as he stared at his arm. the red had spread across most of his forearm and was quickly creeping upwards. A blue-green substance was weeping from where he had scratched it earlier.

“FREEZE! Federal agents!” He turned about. They must have routed him. He stumbled backwards.

“Why are you trying to kill me!” One of the agents shot. The other cursed and followed suit. The businessman took off running the way he had came.

A car pulled into his view from the main alley. The driver laid on his horn at the gaggle of agents running from the opposite direction. The businessman leaped onto the hood and cleared the car with a second leap.

He turned around, eyes wide. “How in the hell…” More gunfire pushed the thought away. He turned and ran, coughing as he went.

The first agent turned to his partner. “We’re running out of time.”

The other man nodded. He pulled out a radio and squeezed the button on the side. “We’re gonna need that chopper after all.”

The businessman squinted at the rays coming from the lowering sun. It was getting harder to think clearly. He dashed out of the alley and into the middle of a busy street.

An SUV dug its nose into the ground, tires squealing indignantly. The businessman half-screamed, half-howled at the woman behind the wheel. She screamed at the sight of him.

He looked down. His shirt looked puffed out. Something lumpy underneath it pushed at the the sweat-soaked fabric. He tore the shirt open with red, cracked fingers. His chest was a mess of green sores and blue fungus.

The businessman slowly lifted his head. “Please. Help me.” The plea came out as more of a gurgle than anything intelligible.

The woman screamed again. She accelerated the SUV backwards, crashing into the car stopped behind her. He ran off into another alley, car horns blaring behind him.

He hid behind a dumpster. He looked at his deformed body and began to sob. He looked up at the sound of an approaching helicopter.

The aircraft loomed over the building he was leaning against. A blinding-white spotlight flooded the alley with daylight. It quickly found the crouching man.

He stood, his contorted face twisting further as he screamed out in rage. He turned and ran, much faster than he should have been able to. The twitching spotlight followed his progress. The nose of the helicopter dipped as the pilot pursued his target.

The businessmonster ran into a small, abandoned parking lot. He whipped his head around, looking for a place to hide away. A number of agents flooded in from two adjacent alleys.

“Holy shit! Shoot him! SHOOT HIM!” A hail of gunfire rained down on the hapless man. He gurgled, howling in pain as a number of rounds found their mark in his torso. He half-ran, half-shambled into a shed built against the wall on one side of the lot.

A dozen agents pressed in on the shed, guns drawn. Police sirens and roaring engines signaled the arrival of back-up. All eyes returned to the shed. A deep, shuddering growl came from within.

The walls of the shed shook as the man-turned-monster thrashed about inside. There came one final, inhuman scream. Silence settled over the scene as the newly-arrived police units came to a stop behind the agents.

BOOM. The door to the shed banged hard into the side of the building. It crunched to a stop, ripped halfway off of its hinges. Glowing green eyes stared menacingly out of the shadows that lay within. The creature inside growled lowly, menacingly.

The twisted monster leaped from his hiding place, screaming and gurgling. The agents and police officers responded by raining gunfire down on the hapless creature. Round after round dug into the ragged mixture of tortured skin, fungus, and infected tissue.

The monster took a few more sluggish steps before dropping to its knees. Its eyes found the first agent and stared at him with pain and sorrow. The green light slowly faded. The creature slumped to the ground.

Some of the agents started to approach it. The first agent cried out. “NO! Stay back! Get the hell back…”

It was too late. The body of the mutated man swelled and bloated. The carcass suddenly yielded to the pressure, sending out a dusty white cloud of spores.

The men fell back, shielding their eyes and coughing uncontrollably. They waved their hands in the air, eyes watering. They began to look from one to another with dread-filled faces as the reality of their situation set in.

“Bongo two-niner, containment failed. Contagion released.” The helicopter pilot slowly circled the scene below, shaking his head as he went.

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Flee the area. Incoming military hardware.”

“Confirmed.” He looked away, raising the helicopter up and away from the area. “Poor bastards.”

The helicopter circled back around several blocks away and hovered. The sound of an approaching jet swept over the city. Moments later a surface-to-ground missile flared towards the contamination site.

An enormous explosion rocked the surrounding buildings. A chorus of car alarms raised their voices into the twilight as the detonation lit up the area. The military aircraft rocketed over the kill-zone a moment later.

The helicopter pilot steered his aircraft back over the area. A large crater had taken the place of the parking lot that had been there only moments before. The shaking spotlight zoomed about the destruction.

“Bongo two-niner, area is secured.”

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Return to base for debrief.”

“Gladly.” The helicopter pilot lifted the aircraft high above the city and angled it towards the nearby military base.

A badly wounded agent watched it go with his one good eye. He spit out a wad of blood and started shuffling towards the alley from which the businessman had come. He scratched absently at the back of his neck as he went.


A day of urban exploration takes a sinister turn.

Karen slid the fiberboard away from the hole in the wall behind the old Fillmore strip mall. She knelt by the opening and peered in. She pulled her head back and smiled at the boy behind her. “Here it is!”

He didn’t look nearly as impressed. “It’s a hole. Very impressive.”

“Oh come on, Nick. It’s exciting! Who knows what we’ll find in there!”

“Oh, I don’t know… Rats, rabid dogs, hobo piss…” Karen ignored him and crawled through the opening. He rolled his eyes. “Guess I’m finding out.”

Karen shined the light from her smartphone in Nick’s face as he crawled into the room with her. He squinted his eyes and banged his head on the shelving above him. “OW! Seriously?”

She giggled. “Klutz!” She playfully shoved him aside and reached through the hole for the fiberboard.

“Worried about tipping your hand to the homeless people?”

Karen made a face in the glow of her phone. “Cops go by here all the time, jackass.”

“Nice.” Nick stood, squinting into the gutted clothing store. “Why am I here, again?”

“Because you expressed interest in my hobbies, jack…”

“Ass… Yes, I know.” He walked towards the front of the store. “It’s brighter than I thought it would be.”

“They usually are. Natural light…” She pointed up. “…From skylights. It saves money and is more welcoming.”

“Well, it didn’t save them enough, did it?” He smirked. He grabbed the gate pulled down over the store’s entrance. “Game over. Let’s go home.”

Karen stuck her tongue out at him. She grabbed the gate and yanked it upwards. It rose halfway before it caught on something and stuck fast.

“The website said explorers broke it weeks ago.”

“Was that before or after they chewed through the wall?”

“Ha ha.” Karen ducked under the gate and into the mall.

It was deathly quiet. The sunlight pouring through the large front windows of the strip mall was shaped by the thin, shifting fog of dust that hung in the air. Nick pointed at the windows. “Oh, good! The cops won’t event have to get out of their car to see us!”

Karen rolled her eyes. “That’s why we stay away from that side of the mall. Duh!” She gave him a shove and walked past him.

Nick hesitated. Karen turned back around. “Look, if you don’t want to do this, then just leave. I can take care of myself.”

“Whatever. I’m fine. I just don’t want to get in trouble with the cops again. My old man will kill me.”

“Then stay away from the windows, and follow me.” She turned and walked away, signaling him to follow with her finger.

They slowly walked towards the middle of the mall, being careful to stay towards the back. Nick halfheartedly peered into the stripped-down stores as they passed. Karen stopped occasionally to take pictures with her smartphone.

“There’s the middle!” Karen pointed excitedly to a large, open area. In the middle was a low wall that formed a ring. A handful of dying trees were languishing in the soil-filled middle. Weathered benches faced outward at regular intervals around the wall. Most were broken.

“And there’s the map!” Karen looked carefully through the filthy front windows, then dashed over to the aging kiosk. She knelt below the map and took a smiling selfie.

Nick followed her over to one of the benches facing away from the front windows and sat down. He smirked as a cloud of dust floated up between them. “What interests you so much about a place like this, anyway?”

“I feel like Indiana Jones! It’s exciting, exploring a place abandoned for years. Besides… This one’s supposed to be haunted.” Karen smiled devilishly.

Nick snorted. “Haunted… Seriously? You believe in that?”

“Well, kind of, I guess. I looked it up. There was a murder here, back in the nineties. The guy was some devil worshiper, or something.”

“You know, that’s some real bad horror movie crap right there.” He shook his head, smiling. “I gotta take a piss. I’ll let you know if I find any ghosts.”

Karen punched him in the shoulder. “The restrooms are on the other side of the mall, you know.”

“Who said I was going to use the restroom?” He grinned.

“Seriously? That’s gross!”

Nick stood and shrugged. “So is this place. See you soon.” He winked and walked off.

“Boys,” she mumbled to herself. Karen looked through the pictures on her phone. She picked out one she liked and tried to open her social app. “No signal? Seriously?”

She put her phone away and stared off in the direction Nick had walked. “What, is he taking a shit, or something?” She shouted. “Did you fall in!”

Karen’s voice echoed down the length of the abandoned mall. There was no reply. “Nick?” Still nothing.

She stood up and dusted off her backside. “I swear, if that little shit tries to scare me…” She started off towards the other side of the mall, hugging herself.

“Nick?” Silence. She continued walking. Something rustled in the store to her right. “Got you! You better not try to scare me.”

She peered through the broken gate of the old toy store. There was nothing inside, save for swollen, discolored ceiling tiles littering the floor. “What the hell, then…”

A mouse darted out from under a pile of ceiling tiles, squeaking all the way. Karen cried out, stamping her feet. “Damn it!”

She nervously laughed at herself. She took a deep breath and looked further down the mall. “Damn it, Nick! Where are you?”

Karen peered into the next store. “I bet he left me, the ass…” One of the trees in the middle of the mall rustled loudly. She spun around, grabbing at her chest.

“How in the hell…” The half-dead branches were still settling. She started back towards the benches. “I should never have told you about that murder!” She smiled.

She heard something dripping as she approached the trees. “Oh, gross! Are you pissing over there?” The dripping slowed. “Come on, answer me! Don’t be an asshole.”

Karen stormed around to the far side of the trees. She stopped dead. The blood drained from her face. She began to scream.

Nick was hung by his neck from one of the dying trees. He was shirtless. His throat had been slashed open. Bloody entrails hung from a gaping wound in his abdomen.

Karen stumbled backwards, still screaming, shaking her head. She stared at Nick’s corpse in disbelief. His dull, white eyes stared back. She turned and ran.

She fumbled her phone out as she went. She numbly punched 911 into the phone and hit the call button. “We’re sorry. Your call cannot be completed at this time.” She growled and hung up.

She stopped in front of the store they had gone through to enter the mall. The gate was closed. “What…” She grabbed it with both hands and lifted. It didn’t budge. “No!” She jerked up hard on it. The gate remained locked.

“This isn’t happening!” She half-screamed the words. She spun around and fell back against the gate. She looked from one end of the mall to the other, breathing heavily.

She looked to her left. One of the main entrances was a short walk down that way. Even if she couldn’t get out, if she could just get lucky and have a cop go by…

A loud crack came from somewhere behind her. She screamed and ran blindly. She slowed as she approached the entrance, then stopped.

“NO!” The glass entrance was lined from one end to the other with five-foot-tall plywood. The ground before it was still littered with broken glass. No way out. No way to see in.

She fished out her smartphone. There was still no signal. Something rustled in the old entryway. She snapped her head back up. Something dark slithered in the shadows.

Karen slowly started backing away, a shiver working up her spine. Something smooth and warm halted her progress. She screamed and dropped her phone.

She spun around. Nick took a step back. He was smiling. “Wow. Okay! I thought you weren’t scared to be alone?”

Karen looked from Nick to the trees in the distance and back again. “You’re alive… But I saw you. You were dead!” She took a step back.

The smile faded off of Nick’s face. “Oh, I’m dead, all right.” Blood began to trickle from a red line that stretched across his throat. “And now you’ll be dead, too!” His eyes turned black.

Karen turned to run. The black, twisted creature that had hid in the shadows burst forward. Its jagged, silver teeth dug into her throat. Blank, brilliant yellow eyes stared into her own as the life bled out of her.

“I tell ya, the damn city needs to get off its collective ass and force the owner to tear this place down!” The officer kicked a piece of debris out of his way. “We’re coming here what, sometimes three times a week for break-ins?”

The officer’s partner nodded. “Something like that.”

“Looters, partiers, now screamers…” The officer spotted something in the old, half-dead trees in the middle of the mall. “There you go…” He pulled his revolver. “Police!”

The two officers approached the trees, weapons pointed at the ground. They stared, unbelieving at the two corpses hanging from one of the trees. A young man, throat slashed and abdomen ripped open. A young woman, throat torn to shreds.

Something growled deeply in the shadows behind them…