The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
There was a skeleton on the penthouse landing, it was dressed in rags; the bones of the neck and ribs had been shattered. There were more claw marks on the walls and floor. The doorframe had twisted out of true, light and voices filtered out from around the edges of the door, rust and age had rotted away at it.
“This is it.” the dead man said.
“Tristam...” Greg began.
The machine-like crashing seemed to follow them from the lower floors. It filled the stairwell, deafening them. For a crazed moment Greg found himself imagining that this was the sound of a great final gear slipping into place.
When the sound faded the dead man turned back to say speak but before he could something dropped on them from above.
A boneless limb wrapped itself around Greg and pitched him down the stairs. Greg landed with a muffled crack. He opened his bleary eyes to see the dead man struggling with a distorted shape that coiled beneath a filthy tarp. It’s a monster. Was all Greg could think, A monster!
The dead man pulled at the writhing mass and threw it to the floor. The dead man’s face had been left unrecognizable by the attack. Greg winced at what the half-light revealed.
A pair of sturdy legs uncoiled from the bottom of the tarp and the monster tackled the dead man. Another pair of limbs extended, grabbing neck and knee.
Greg tried to help, that was when he realized one of his legs was bent back under him. He exhaled with realization and felt the pain settle in and take hold.
The monster raised the dead man up, smashing him against the hard metal of the railing over and over again. Then the monster tossed the dead man aside and stared down at Greg.
Tears pricked at the corners of Greg’s eyes, it was like Colonie Village Junior High all over again. He tried to move, if he could force himself to his feet he could at least try and fight.
Then the monster was standing over him, its jigsaw of a face expressionless. It raised its arms, each one tipped with something broken and pointed. “The Lord is my Shepherd...” Greg began but panic made him fail to remember even the simplest Psalm. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow... though I walk…”
The monster cocked its head watching him.
“Please.” Greg said, “I’m at your mercy.”
Claws of sinew and bone locked around the monster’s throat. The monster slashed at the dead man its limbs bending and twisting back on themselves like snakes. It started to howl and thrash in the dead man’s grip, bits of it dropping off in chunks of wet gristle. One piece became a dozen until the howling dwindled to an empty moan.
The dead man let the empty tarp fall, he was stripped to the waist, stripped of clothes and of skin.
“Is the monster gone?” Greg asked.
“Gone.” The dead man’s voice was thick, “Gone forever.”
“Tristam.” Greg said, “My leg’s broken.”
An expression tugged at the muscles of the dead man’s face but there wasn’t enough flesh to give them shape, “Greg...”
“You have to go and finish this.” Greg said.
“I can’t,” The dead man drew closer, “I’ll fail.”
“We’re here for a reason Tristam.” Greg said, “I believe in you. God gave you this power for a reason. Use it.”
“What about you?”
“Come get me on the way back.”
“What if I can’t? What if there’s something else on these stairs?”
“Don’t worry about that.”
The dead man turned to go, “Maybe you should pray for me a little?”
“I always do.” Greg watched him climb the stairs.