Mad Mike’s Girlfriend
Michael C. Pennington
First Published By The New Bedlam Project
I couldn’t help wonder what mayhem would occur that night due to the New Bedlam’s Spring Thaw Festival. With the amount of psychic energy the town currently generated, my anticipation made me jumpy. The teddy-beasties alone would be a major pain.
The high school band played in the distance, horns competing with percussion. Signaling the parade was on its way down Main Street. The line of cars, floats, local clubs; and even farm tractors – the older and shinier the better – would make their way to the area around the Farmer’s Market on this side of town.
On the block sized lot, a carnival had set up at one end and the town’s bazaar for the local crafters at the other. Even the writers had erected a large pavilion with tables for book signings and sales. They would very likely compose each other’s death if they didn’t play fair.
In the middle of all this, off to one side, a newly constructed stage hulked, where the Spring Festival’s Queen would be crowned and the school choir was scheduled to serenade the crowd. Then to complete the night, various local music groups planned to entertain the crowd.
I chose a spot beneath a tree at the corner of Market and Main to watch the parade pass by. I wasn’t interested in the town council or the mayor, the new fire truck or Pets Groomed by Us. The convertibles with the Spring Festival’s beauty entrants were more my speed.
Joan Soul, was one those contestants. She worked in the produce department at the local grocery. Her smile made my heart hammer in my chest.
I usually shopped during her morning shift. There were so many vegetables in my refrigerator that they were about all I ate these days. Not that I missed the extra weight I used to pack around.
I worked out regularly, since I began my night-time campaign against evil and the bloodthirsty creatures that go bump in the night. To be truthful, I was more vulnerable during the day. Evil knew no boundaries and I wanted to be ready.
My nighttime vigilance was just a scratch on the Entities predations. There was evidence of recruitment from the increased evil ambience that hovered about New Bedlam. Just because it wasn’t in plain sight didn’t mean you were safe. All one had to do was look around.
I glanced toward the storm drain across the street and something pulled back into the dark. Beasties, I suspected. The damned little teddy bears were everywhere. The local rats were an endangered species because of them. A past trick of theirs was to lay about pretending to be some kid’s lost stuffed bear.
Until a person reached down to pick it up. He or she would be lucky to keep their hand. The teddy-beasts had become a self-perpetuating force, despite the local authority’s claim they didn’t exist.
Then there was the sideshow that snuck in on the traveling carnival’s exhaust fumes. I shuddered. Something crawled about the edges of my mind from that direction. There was no telling what I would find. Nothing would keep me from investigating later that night.
I spotted the Cadillac that carried Joan and waved. Blonde, wholesome and athletic, she looked right at me and wiggled her fingers. I had promised to meet her after the beauty contest.
Have you ever known every little thing was perfectly right, but then a rush of events gone terribly wrong crowded in to smother the good?
I sensed an unclean presence.
A blond male in his early forties stepped off the curb. His digital camera clicked while he focused and crowded in on Joan. I eyeballed him and thought about accidentally knocking the camera out of his hands. He irritated me on general principle.
It was the transients like this guy that made my job hard. I was constantly weeding through the scum that were drawn in looking for the easy score. Or perhaps the easy kill.
I hounded the Entities’ minions last winter, until they went to ground and things quieted down. A ruse to fool me I expected. There was no way the monsters that preyed upon New Bedlam’s dreams would willingly leave. They fed upon the terror generated by the creatures that haunted and murdered for them in the night.
During the day, I remained as low-key as possible. Nevertheless, I had to eat. I tried to ignore my feelings for Joan at first. But inevitably, I asked her out. She liked the things I liked. I felt she was best friend material in fact. Thus, the two of us became an item and the prospect of marriage teased me.
Every night, I went to sleep in anticipation of the fight. My formidable ethereal form prowled the back streets and woods, ready to undo the Entities’ mischief. My mission hindered a normal life style.
I hadn’t told Joan of my unordinary talent. Nor had she stayed over at my place. Maybe I was taking things too slow. A long time had passed since a woman crossed my threshold.
My interest in the rest of the parade waned and I walked onto the grounds of the market. The hungry looks of the vendors and crafters followed my progress. A tough winter had left them craving a sale. The spring festival was the town council’s grand hope to breathe new life into the economy.
My eyes strayed to the distant carnival’s midway and I walked past the bazaar.
I also avoided the writers’ pavilion. Only a fool would attract the notice of a frustrated author, especially one who hadn’t sold any books lately. A person could get written up as a victim and be dead by the following morning. Their creativity never ceased to amaze me. I know. I used to be one of them.
The Entities tapped into the anguish of the more disturbed horror writers and New Bedlam attracted more than its share. The Entities shaped the writers’ dreams into living, breathing monsters. One would have thought the town was the Mecca of the genre.
I use to say that I didn’t write horror, until I met one of my dreams after I woke up from sleep apnea. Okay, call my work dark fiction, but I always held with the good guys winning. I had become a self-sustaining force, too, just like so many other things that made me uneasy concerning New Bedlam.
Not that the horror writers were the sole catalysts for of all that happened. The Entities attracted the worst of mankind: the killers, the slavers, the sadists, and the psychotic. Then there were the monsters and phenomena that already existed: vampires, werewolves, boogiemen, ghouls, sentient traps and black holes. Plus, the ghosts of all the past victims that wandered, entrapped, in the ambience of the Entities.
Unable to destroy the greatest of evils, I still challenged their minions. I sensed that the more monsters laid to waste, the less the Entities had to feed upon. Seven nights a week, I took out the garbage. Seven nights a week, I went to sleep alone.
If my eyes could have popped out of my head, they would have rolled toward the stage, in love. Belatedly, I wiped at the corners of my mouth to check for drool. I had no idea Joan looked so good in a bathing suit.
She made runner-up to the little brunette whose daddy was a town councilman. In truth, I suspected the smile in her emerald eyes signified her relief. All the attention seemed to bother her. Despite the politicking, I knew who the true queen of spring was.
I spotted her outside the trailer set up as a dressing room. She now wore jeans and a sweater, her hair brushed back over her shoulders. The words, lucky me, blazed from my eyes.
“Photo for New Bedlam News?” The same bothersome cameraman popped up out of nowhere. This time he used a flash, because of the evening’s shadows. “Excellent. You look wonderful. Hold for a moment. How about you and me…”
“I’ve told you before, leave me alone,” Joan snarled her ire.
Having never seen the man prior to that day, I suspected he lied about working for the local gazette. I stepped between him and Joan. My clinched fingers stabbed into his left kidney as I went by. “Excuse us. My date and I have plans.”
The man darted hateful eyes in my direction. I returned them with a meaningful glare. He backed off, still slumped to the left from obvious pain. I watched him move away, perhaps to find someone else to bother.
“Hi, Mike.” Joan’s expression brightened. “Thanks for the rescue that guy gives me the creeps.”
“He’s kind of pushy. Seen him before?”
“A couple of times, he just seems to come out of nowhere. But I feel safer now.”
She took my hand, smiling up at me, and we walked away in silence. We avoided the crowds, touring beneath the trees. I led her toward the town garden, with a particular bench in mind.
“Miss me?” Joan asked. She leaned her head against my bicep, her arm locked with mine.
“Sure I did, enough to spend the whole night with you.” I braved the bold hint as we sat down on the wood and iron bench.
“We’ll see. First you’re going to walk me around some.” She smiled and nodded at another couple that strolled by.
“Oh, you’d rather walk?” I felt stupid for not asking her, I made to stand, but had to tug my foot from the ground. Curious, I looked down. A purple-flowered vine stopped entwining my ankle, perhaps pretending innocence. “That might be a good idea. We wouldn’t want to grow roots.”
Joan froze, as if I had said something wrong. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Perplexed at her agitation, I gestured at the garden that seemed to lean toward us. Then at the flowered vine that had already draped itself over my foot again. “Ever notice how the plants tend to be a little more alive around here?”
“No, not at all,” a slight icy tone edged her words.
“Hmm, they give me the willies.” I stood up, gently pulling my foot free of the plant.
“I think they’re beautiful.”
I helped her up, determined to leave the plants and the subject behind. “No doubt about that. Shall we check out the carnival?”
“Don’t waste your money on those rigged games,” Joan teased, the tension gone from her voice.
“Not me. I just like looking.”
“Looking? Are you a girl watcher, Mister Mike?”
“My eyes are only for you, Joan.”
“You live there?” Joan asked in disbelief.
“Hey, it’s mine.” Granted the weathered brickwork and the small windows weren’t that attractive. But they made the house easier to defend.
“You don’t have any plants,” she scolded.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“I… uh… don’t know much about them.” Afraid to tell her the aggressive plant life around New Bedlam scared the crap out of me.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll show you the right ones. Help you plant them and teach you how to take care of them. Okay?”
“That would be great, Joan.” Relieved, I had gotten out of the uneasy situation concerning plants once more.
“Why don’t we go to my place now?” she suggested.
Slow to catch the hint, I replied. “It’s getting dark.” I spotted two furry hind legs dive behind a tree. We were being followed.
“I know, silly, that’s why I want you to walk me home.”
“Hey. That sounds like fun.” My spine stiffened and I watched for an ambush ready to protect my lady.
We reached Joan’s place, a little white cottage on the corner of Haven and Maple two blocks north of Main. Tulips and other early blossoming flowers crowded the pathway up to the house. The purple-flowered vines on the trellises were exceptionally large for this early in the year. Every inch of the yard was planted and not a blade of grass graced the ground. The yard seemed alive, constantly moving.
“You’re coming in,” she informed me. “Don’t even think about leaving early.”
My eyes snaked around the yard, prying into the shadows. “Well, maybe for a little bit.”
“Mike, I’m starting to like having you around. You make a girl feel so safe.”
Okay, so I fell asleep on her couch. She spread a blanket over me. I saw her, because I watched her from above. When I fall asleep, my ethereal form left my corporal body. Call it astral travel, dream walking or, as in my case, flying. I hunted the night with this gift.
I was surprised I could shift to my ethereal form without the C-Pap and face mask I normally used to sleep. I was fairly co-dependent on the machine and its eleven pounds of pressure that kept my nasal passages open. Otherwise, I generally didn’t breathe or sleep well.
Perhaps it was all the plants in Joan’s house. The place smelled fresh and alive. Plants grew in all the windows, in ornate pots on the end tables and hanging from the ceiling in the corners. She certainly had a knack for growing plants.
I watched her get under the covers and turn out the light. If it hadn’t been for Joan dropping the hint that she felt safer with me, I would have walked home. She never spoke of the weird stuff that happened in New Bedlam. But her mention of safety twice in one night hinted at such thoughts. I wondered if the photo stalker had something to do with her worries.
I drifted through the glass pane of the window. The plants moved aside to let me pass. They obviously sensed my presence, even if I kept myself invisible. The vines on the trellises pulled away as far as they could stretch. I had a feeling my astral form made them uneasy. That or they knew I was a guest. It occurred to me the plants could be formidable.
Normally, I stayed invisible while snooping about, but some creatures could see me, even when I didn’t want them to. Some I killed when I caught up to them. Others I worried more about, because they saw me first and hid or sometimes set a trap for me. Nevertheless, my skin would crawl when I sensed their eyes on me and their hostility.
I wore my normal shape of a ghostly crusader knight. My battle axe, sword and shield could play merry hell with the nightlife. I circled Joan’s house, swung wide and flew by my own. Then back into town over the Farmer’s Market.
I hadn’t forgotten the sideshow. Something dirty called me. I could sense the evil and a vicious cackle hidden behind a mental shield that I couldn’t quite penetrate.
There were still plenty of people around. But that didn’t keep me from sticking my head into trailers with quick peeks. I found what I sought, and wished I hadn’t; some abominations just weren’t meant to be seen.
The bones removed from his arms and legs, the flaps sewn up to look like flippers or wings. The lower jaw removed to give the face a pointed beak at the nose. Human at one time, some sadistic bastard had surgically made the thing. Its black soulless eyes told of ages of nightmares perpetrated.
He was meant to be an exhibit, so horrible and ugly that people would pay money to see him. I read that gypsies made freaks in the dark ages. But I had no doubt who was in control now. He crept, probed and inserted his dark mental feelers into everyone around him.
I noticed several people about the sideshow with enslaved minds. There was a pretty girl to feed and clean the monster, and a strongman to move the obese body about. I suspected the caravan boss and several others were in league with him, for he seemed to only use their eyes to see.
There were multiple attractions in the sideshow. A mermaid that wasn’t real, also surgically altered. A giant that looked stretched to the point he could barely walk. A fortuneteller burst from a tent, wild eyed, she cast her gaze about as if she sensed me.
A stocky China-doll, about a foot tall, so painted up I couldn’t tell if she was flesh or wood strutted about like she owned the place. A red lipstick smile barely hid the permanent sneer beneath. Her eyes flicked over every one and thing as if measuring worth.
I craved an excuse, any reason at all to clean house. But I backed off, up into the sky, to get a better picture of the whole area. So much went on in New Bedlam I could never catch it all. The Entities’ web of evil and unnatural manifestations carefully nudged, manipulated or jerked an event into reality.
Movement through the un-mowed grass on the outskirts of the Farmers Market caught my eye. The teddy-beasties were way too brave as they stalked the carnival’s perimeter. A sure bet they were out in force.
I focused my vision on the dart game and the milk bottle toss. Sure enough, I spotted a couple of fresh teddy-beasts amongst the prizes. The deceitful little scum probably hoped to terrorize some unsuspecting child or fool.
The new teddies were no doubt recruited after an unthinking child discarded their past’s most precious possession. Animated by the Entities, the teddies would stop at nothing to exact their own on humanity. I imagine quite a few of New Bedlam’s children woke up from a nightmare thinking they saw long-lost teddy at the window.
The only way I had found to kill a teddy-beast was to dismember or burn it. Some of them were patch-work repaired from our past confrontations. They had a bad habit of sewing each other back up. They even sewed in razor blades and slivers of metal for teeth and claws.
I performed my normal snatch-and-grab with my gauntleted hands, snagging them by the back of the neck, because they could chew my fingers off in a heartbeat. Some of the fixed barbecue pits in the picnic area still had hot coals in them. I stuffed the few I caught under the grills, closed the lids and watched the flames puff out from the cracks when they combusted.
With a happy smirk, I took a break ghosting up into the sky.
Checking on the sideshow, I found I no longer need an excuse. The abomination had used his mind to kidnap a couple of teens. They slumped in the back of a van all trussed up and gagged.
I leaned through the hood and sabotaged the van, pulling ignition wires, so the engine wouldn’t start.
When the carnival boss climbed in the vehicle it sealed his fate. I took solid form at the open door. Surprised fear froze on his face as he died from the tip of my sword that slipped up under the ribs to pierce his heart.
All hell broke loose. The abomination sensed my assault and sent everything he had at me. I could be overwhelmed, when I solidified for an attack, as well as be seen. That’s why I masked my face with the flames of hell to make the enemy think twice. Any that I believed to be part of the madness, I erased from the night.
Except the ones that weren’t smart enough to know better. The cute kid that it kept for a slave and used to try and knife me, I just knocked unconscious. The same with the strongman when he grabbed me, though I gave the persistent big guy a couple of good knocks. I left the mermaid, the fortune teller and the tall man alone when the last two knelt as if to protect the mermaid with prayer.
A wicked tinker-bell cackle sent chills up my spine. I turned to spy the China-doll stride boldly from the dark. A pair of serrated knives flashed a threat and the hell-shrew sprang at me.
I met her halfway and unmercifully field kicked her into the tall grass. A great commotion ensued in the grass. Okay, so I set the beasties up with a little on the spot inspiration. I knew they would be keeping a close watch on me. And I figured they deserved the little horror.
The grass parted at the edge and a teddy with a hunter’s horn gripped in one paw stepped out. He wore a Robin-hood cap and a scrap of chainmail across his chest. With only one large button eye, he pinned me with a glare. In defiance, a three fingered paw went up with the center appendage raised high. Yep, I figured they owed me one. I bet she shredded a few of them before they finished her.
The abomination’s psyche wrapped about me, smothering my free will, it was the worst thing I had ever faced. He almost forced me to kill myself twice. His powerful mind beat at my personal barriers taunting me to cut my own throat.
I didn’t mess around when I dropped through the roof and solidified. He made every effort to make eye contact with me through my flaming face to no avail. Without hesitation I split his skull with my axe.
Casting myself back into the night I flew to the van. I yanked the back doors open to the van, so the kids could be found. Now awake, their wide eyes stared at me over the gags. I couldn’t help the toothy grin.
I faded away to avoid trouble. People came running from all the commotion. Even the normally shy cops showed up to collect the credit for the rescue.
Unexpectedly, I was jerked back into my body. Joan had a good grip on my ears, shaking me. “Wake up,” she whispered in desperation.
“I’m awake,” I huffed out surprised she hadn’t torn my ears off.
“I thought I heard someone outside,” fear evident in her voice. “But I guess it was just you having a nightmare.”
The nightmare part was true, but I wasn’t finished for the night. And I couldn’t go back to sleep. Joan made me a hot chocolate and we sat up a bit. Yes, I kissed her. The rest isn’t any of your business.
I still couldn’t get to sleep. Several times, I heard scratching at the windows. Once, I even caught the patter of paws on the roof. I centered on my mantra, clearing my mind. Listened to Joan’s little snore next to me in her bed. Focused with every…
And finally sprang from my body, without using the flaming face routine to keep the light down. Determined to keep silent and not yell in my sleep. I drifted outside ready to kick some teddy-beasts’ stuffing.
I caught the flash of a camera. The last thing I expected was the dang reporter hanging around. But I should have known the man stalked my Joan. I had sensed the stench of his aura.
My axe appeared in my hand and I descended on the area across Maple. Convinced, I would have to administer a heavy handed lesson to one persistent reporter.
Suspended upside down from a tree the reporter stared at me with empty bugged-out eyes. A last drop from his slit throat plopped to the lake of blood beneath him. His camera was nowhere to be seen. I looked around suspiciously, suspecting I had stepped into a trap.
The hell-shrew cackled from Joan’s yard. I spun and flew across the road, ready to bisect the little terror. I couldn’t believe she was still alive. Never more convinced that the depraved teddy-beasties knew no boundaries to team up with the horrid creature. Setting down in the yard, I reluctantly made myself solid to give her a target.
The teddy-beasties jumped me. The bi-peddle piranhas gnarled at every inch of me. I staggered under the weight. Their evil essence ate at me. I had been attacked before and knew my vulnerability. My ethereal form didn’t bleed, but my solid form did when I was injured.
I pulled a couple of teddies from my face. Only to try and duck one of the hell-shrew’s knives snaking in. The point stuck in a teddy’s rear-end when I held it up in defense. It turned on the hell-shrew in righteous anger and met a shredded doom before she disappeared back into the dark.
Joan appeared at the bedroom window in her white night gown. When her eyes met mine in recognition, she glanced back over her shoulder perhaps at my corporal form in her bed. The expression of concern on her face turned to one of determination.
Her hands rose from her sides and multiple teddies were suddenly ripped away. The purple flowered vines bound them motionless, suspended from the ground. A speculative smile appeared and disappeared as she concentrated on the teddies.
I was ready for the hell-shrew when she sprang from the shadows. Her manic eyes matched the screech of shrill rage she threw my way. I pulled a Babe Ruth with my axe and fertilized the grass with her blood.
Glass shattered, and I leapt to help Joan. The teddies had mounted an assault on Joan’s position. Their jaws and claws made a hellish clash in the scramble. Leaves and plant fiber flew from the defending house plants.
I did my best to imitate a garbage shredder, madly slashing about. I mentally cringed when I saw a teddy drawn and quartered, warning me to be very careful of the plants. Dismembered teddies lay everywhere.
Old One Eye’s horn blew a long peel and the wounded teddies backed away. Several able-bodied ones snatched up the parts and stuffing of others. It would have been comical, if they didn’t repair themselves to attack another day. I leapt forward to get a few more and drive them off.
I found a galvanized trashcan and stuffed their torn parts inside, just to deny them to their buddies. The vision of a flaming burn-barrel prevailed in my mind. Joan’s plants, to my surprise, passed teddy-parts to the can.
Something broke from inside. “You little shit,” I heard Joan yell.
The long tortured squeal of a teddy soon followed. Joan eventually leaned out to deposit the ball of scrap in the can. I had to use the axe to pack the container down to make more room.
When Joan motioned me back inside, I climbed up through the window. Joan’s house was totally trashed. Windows broken, furniture overturned and a mysteriously plugged toilet. I suspected that someone I knew, who claimed she didn’t have a temper, had flushed one of the little boogers.
“Oh! My poor house.” Joan turned in place surveying the damage, a tear rolled from one eye.
Not one to miss such a golden opportunity, I stepped in close to her. “Joan you can’t stay here. It’s not safe. How about coming home with me?”
She reached out for my hand and we shared a moment. Each of us had been afraid to reveal our secret talent. But that fear no longer separated us.
“I’ll pack a bag.” She stretched up and gave me a kiss.
We stood out on the sidewalk, accessing the damage. The house wasn’t destroyed, but it would take awhile to repair the windows and damage to the siding. The yard was thoroughly torn up.
“Tomorrow we can come back, clean up and even transplant a few plants over at my place,” I reassured her.
“I thought you didn’t like plants.”
“I’ll make a special exception when they’re yours.”
“In that case.” She raised a hand and the vines stirred from the walls. The trees swayed and shifted. The flowers stretched. Then the earth rolled aside, so that every single plant and tree pulled free from the ground. A parade of plant life moved toward us. “Come along dears. Momma has a new place to live.”
We had our own parade on the way home.