Michael C Pennington
First Published By The New Bedlam Project
I rise from my body each night, leaving my corporeal self as my armor takes shape upon my ethereal form.
Times were tough in New Bedlam, especially for those with sleep apnea. I had death dreams for years before the doctors discovered I stopped breathing in my sleep. My subconscious knew I was close to death, constantly telling me so with my dreams. When the doctor put me on a C-PAP my life changed.
How was I to know my dreams turned to reality? The Entity that gathered around our town feasted on such dreams, feeding on our emotional horror. Quite often I found that what I had dreamed came true. Like a producer the Entity waited for me, its personal script writer, to create some new dreadfulness.
Of course I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of what would happen if anyone found out that I was one of those who caused the nightmares that stalked the night. I distinctly remember the man hung from a street light. With a sign taped to the post stating, Monster Maker.
Try and tell the mob that you weren’t responsible. Rarely would their victims get off easy with a simple bullet. There was no reasoning with a mob of people driven to insanity.
Most people didn’t sleep well at night; no one knew who, or what might be at their door. Would their dreams come true, take shape and invade their own home?
Why didn’t I get out, flee like the many others before me? I’m Mad. I’m so angry that I want to bleed the Entity like it has done to others. I don’t like being used.
I have a plan, and I have a weapon derived from the gift of concentrating on my writing. Forget the pen and the keyboard. I don’t need them anymore, for I use my mind to write my stories. I write them in my dreams as I hunt the monsters that haunt New Bedlam.
Every night, after I lock the house up, I lie down with my machine. Mask fitting tight over my face, fresh air blowing over cool water with eleven pounds of pressure pumping into my sinuses. I concentrate on my hero, the demon slayer. I quickly fall asleep to my dream while meditating on control.
In my hero form, I stalk the streets; sometimes I float above, seeking the twisted evil that has taken so many. The books I read call it astral travel. I call my jaunts, a-hunting-I-will-go.
My hero takes solid form, just as the dreams of horror do, I’m tapped into the Entity’s power and the creature can’t stop me. I have built barriers around my physical form. Nobody can get in or even touch my house while I sleep.
I haven’t found a means to attack the Entity. Whatever it is the true form evades me, perhaps dimensional, maybe a span in time, but I can sense that the Entity’s very old. After each night I grow stronger, more confident in my ability.
Like a hero of legends, I wear armor of my own making with a red cross on my white surcoat. I carry weapons, my favorite the double-headed battleaxe. I live for cleaving monsters’ heads from shoulders, splattering little beasties and chasing horrors back to where they came from.
I have become a vigilante, in search of those who have become corrupted, who revel in the murder and horror. Some have come from afar to join the horror. Serial killers smug in their belief they have found a haven and a place to hunt freely.
Like a wraith I hovered above the man tracking the killer. He was something different, not from New Bedlam or the surrounding area. His stealthy movement screamed professional, all decked out in black fatigues. I wondered if the government had finally caught a clue and sent an investigator. I rose higher in the sky to see if he was alone.
Just the four of us filled the night, the victim, the human beast, the professional and I. We were just off Main Street, past the Farmer’s Market headed into the residential area. The three spread out across a small grass lot with a few trees bordering the road.
The victim furtively glanced over her shoulder as she hurried along. The killer, dressed in black like a cowboy, purposely let himself be seen, obviously enjoying the fear he caused. His dark aura hinted at the uncanny. I sensed he had played out the very same scene before.
As the dark one drew near his victim, the professional crept upon the killer. He held his gun in both hands and moved to the left. I suspected he intended to position himself to get a better shot at the killer without endangering the female.
The woman paused as if to let the killer catch up. Something was amiss about the whole scenario. I couldn’t quite put my thoughts around the problem, so I hovered and waited to see what developed.
“Stay where you are,” the professional yelled at the killer.
The man in the dark drover’s coat froze in mid step. He pivoted on the tip of his boot. Squatting low, right hand extended with the tip of a blade briefly exposed at the edge of his sleeve.
The female just as surprised as the killer, momentarily froze and then drew her hands up to clasp them together near her face. In jeans and a light-blue coat, her dark hair framed a pale face. She glanced between the two men as if unsure of who she had to fear the most.
“Federal Agent. Get your hands up where I can see them.”
The knife disappeared and the hands went up. I couldn’t quite make out the man’s face beneath the western hat. He stood as if fearless shifting from one foot to the other.
The professional closed on the killer, the gun’s aim never wavering. As he drew near his left hand moved from the gun to the back of his belt. He pulled a pair of handcuffs out, thumbing them open.
“Get on the ground.”
The killer didn’t move.
The killer just stared at him, provoking him closer.
I knew his game and I suspect the professional did as well. Once within reach he would attack. I deduced the killer could move extremely fast.
“Drop the knife,” the agent ordered.
The professional didn’t have my enhanced sight. I was impressed that he hadn’t missed the knife. He surprised me when the barrel of the gun dropped a few degrees aiming for the killer’s knee.
“Look, asshole, I’m not going to play around. Drop the knife and get on the ground.”
A long glittering sliver dropped to the ground, and the professional brought the gun back up. The killer dropped to one knee, feigning trouble with the other. He had shown no sign of a bum leg earlier. I thought he might still be armed.
“Mister, you can play act all you want, but that won’t keep me from putting a ten-mil in your knee cap.”
“You won’t shoot,” the killer spoke in a low voice.
I would have missed his words if I hadn’t dropped lower. Anticipating the moment, I would have to intervene. The professional was good, but the confidence the killer projected set my nerves on edge.
I noted that the professional barely moved his head. Neither of us had observed the female drawing near, until her light clothing caught my attention. Her eyes never left the professional, hands slowly clenching and opening to fingers spread wide.
“You like to gamble with your life, don’t you?” The professional stepped to the side, away from the female, angling to get behind the man.
I wondered which one he directed the question to. I found myself wanting to get to know the man. Perhaps he could help me in my war.
“You defy the Ancient One,” the female declared.
“Lady, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You should have left days ago when you had a chance. Instead, you keep interfering with the Ancient One’s work. I don’t need your help.”
For the first time, I think the professional might have been surprised. He and I both were examining the supposed victim. The pale skin I noted before seemed even paler, almost transparent to the point where her blue veins appeared to fluoresce.
“You were setting this guy up?” The professional’s hand eased toward his pocket, exchanging the cuffs for a small flashlight.
“He has collected many souls in his wanderings. He would make a good trophy to present to the Ancient One.”
She eased to the left and the professional moved with her. He kept the killer between her and himself. She switched her gaze to the killer.
The man stared at her blue eyes that seemed to almost light up. He looked hypnotized and motionless. Gone was the predator like movements he processed before.
“Lady, I’m taking this guy into custody. If you don’t want to press charges against him, that’s fine. But I’m hauling this guy to the local station house and running his prints.”
What was he doing? Keeping her talking or distracted?
“I think not. He wanted me and he’s going to get me.”
He flashed the light onto her face. I don’t know what the man thought he was going to accomplish. The black optic lens’ dropping over her eyes weren’t what I expected.
Long claws punctured out of her sneakers, and she leapt over the killer to slash down as she passed over him. Her hands extended reaching for her next victim with talons that appeared from nowhere. The professional stood his ground blasting off two rounds at her.
I dropped down, the moment she left the ground, to meet her attack. My axe swept out at her neck. She saw the blade coming and tried to twist in the air. I cleaved the top of her skull off instead of the neat beheading I intended.
The professional rolled to the side to avoid the thrashing body that crashed to the ground where he had stood. She reminded me of a headless snake that didn’t know it was dead.
The killer still knelt, bleeding out from the ten deep slashes that shredded his upper clothing, and opened up both sides of his neck and shoulders. His mouth opened and closed, eyes staring wide in disbelief. He tried to staunch the bleeding with his hands to no avail.
The professional looked on in disdain and I certainly wasn’t going to help him. I reached the ground and slung my axe through the ring of my baldric. Casually, I kicked the top of the real predator’s skull away from my feet.
Indifferent, the two of us assessed each other, running our eyes up and down, filing away information. Not only did I see, but I could smell that he hadn’t had a clean change of clothes in days. The professional cocked his head and briefly pointed his free hand at my chest.
“Who the hell are you supposed to be?”
“The name’s Mike. And you…”
“Oh hell, I must be going nuts. Are you…nah, you can’t be. He uses a sword.” He scratched his week-old beard shaking his head in denial.
Intrigued, I had to ask. “What?” Suspecting, because I knew what I looked like.
“An angel.” The professional grimaced, as if saying the word were a crime or worse.
I smiled at him, ready to grow wings, but read how close the man must be to the edge of insanity. New Bedlam had a way of doing that to newcomers.
“Not today, maybe tomorrow.” I liked the idea of wings that might scare the evil out of the bad guys. “You the FBI?”
He eyeballed me again, perhaps making a decision. “Yes, but a lot of good that’s done me.”
“Where you are you staying?”
“My car’s back there a ways.” He jerked his head in the direction of Main Street.
The killer fell to his face, shuddered and lay still. He wouldn’t be preying on anyone else. Presently, I assumed the piece of nastiness was on a one-way path to hell.
The agent gave him a little kick with his boot. I watched a little smile of satisfaction crease his tired face. He glanced back at me, flicked the safety on his pistol and stuffed the weapon in his shoulder holster.
“You want a shower, and a place to rest?”
“Naw, I’m looking for an old pal. He disappeared a while back. You haven’t seen…”
“An agent like you? Nope. But there have been rumors of a guy in a suit kicking butt for the past month. Could be your friend? If it wasn’t you?”
“If he’s been kicking ass then it must be him. That’s what he does best.”
“Look, guy…say, what is your name anyway?”
“Joe, why don’t you hang out at my place for a bit? You look like you could use the rest. And frankly, I think you would be a lot safer than staying in your car.”
Joe glanced at the talons on the headless woman’s feet and hands. “Yeah, you might be right about that. What the hell is she?”
“I can’t be sure, but she was probably a writer trying to put a unique finish on a story.”
“I’ll explain later. You look like you could stand some pizza and a beer Joe.
“Yeah?” He gazed around the scene as if reluctant to leave. “That would be fine by me, but…”
“I wouldn’t worry about the cleanup. By morning the little beasties will have licked the place shiny.”
“They look like little teddy bears, all cute and cuddly, until they try to eat you.”
“Isn’t anything normal around here?”
“Not anymore. You remember that Joe. Come on I’ll walk you to your car.”
As we turned toward Main Street, the air before us distorted. The Entity opened a hole into our world. I shoved Joe behind me and lifted my shield taking form on my arm. Joe’s gun appeared on my left ready to fire.
I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t a man in a torn and dirty suit being spit out of nothing to sprawl at our feet.
I knew a peace offering when I saw one. Too bad, I wasn’t in the mood for one.