Monday, June 24, 2024




Al Bruno III

Before you reach the Scrapyard, you smell it: motor oil, rotting rubber, and damp earth mixed into a mechanical odor, the stink of the modern era. When the wind is strong and comes from the east, the whole Town smells like a scrapyard, but it is something you learn to get used to.

The Scrapyard is a chaotic maze of piled cars, with the most valuable parts already scavenged and placed near the office. In the center of the clutter are heavy-duty equipment and tools used for servicing large trucks and diesel engines. Further into the yard, hidden by stacks of corroded vehicles, are storage huts overflowing with miscellaneous items that have been abandoned over time. The center of the Scrapyard is occupied by towering metal crushers, forklifts, and cranes. But beyond all this lies a contaminated swamp, where the management has dumped chemicals instead of disposing of them properly.

I am the youngest of the six men employed by the Scrapyard, and there is always work to keep us busy. We move through the organized wreckage, occasionally crossing paths with each other or the mange-infested dogs that have made their homes in the refuse. Sometimes, we pull parts for customers who come from miles around to repair their vehicles; other times, we move stripped and decrepit cars to the crushers so they can be sold to recycling plants. The woman in the office gives orders through the speakers mounted on weathered wooden posts scattered throughout the yard.

It was not a perfect life and not the life I expected, but I had found a kind of peace. I was grateful to no longer be running from my past and to have avoided oblivion.

At least I had until this night, this terrible November night.

The end began with the fading light of a dismal workday. I was hard at work pulling radios and batteries from recently acquired vehicles. The task was grueling. My hands were greasy with oil and sweat, and bits of plastic had cut my palms in half a dozen places. The air had been clammy with the anticipation of rain all day, but not a single drop had fallen.

My thoughts that day were lonely ones. Just a few months ago, there were seven of us working at the Scrapyard, and Crenshaw, the best friend I'd had since I came to this Town, always worked with me. Between the two of us, we usually made quick work of jobs like this. But Crenshaw was dead; his sins had caught up with him. Now, the only person I had left to talk to was Muriel, my neighbor from the trailer park, and I had begun to find her presence uncomfortable.

While removing a tape deck from a crumpled sports car, I accidentally hit the button that released the trunk. I thought nothing of it; after all, I would probably be sent out later to retrieve spare tires or other abandoned items from there anyway. Once I had retrieved the radio, I went to the rear of the car.

I cried out at the sight but could not turn away. It was a feral shape, long dead and desiccated with time. The fur was a deep red. The snout was drawn back from the blackened teeth. Its red fur covered everything but the face and fingertips. The breasts were swollen with dried rivulets of sickly yellow milk. The horror I felt was not of the unfamiliar; it was the horror of recognition. This was the creature that had driven me screaming from sleep every night until I had given up dreams forever and lost myself in a life where I was only truly half alive.

Even more terrible was the realization that this creature, this Mother-Thing, that had pursued me in my dreams had done so not out of malice but out of love. The most terrible kind of love, a love that drove it to claw its way from my unconscious world to this Scrapyard in the middle of nowhere.

But apparently, the journey had been fatal. The sight of the mummified shell was not just a relief; it was a pleasure. I shut the car's lid with a satisfying thud. I walked purposefully towards my co-workers, ready to request—no, to insist they send the car to the crusher without delay.

It began to rain, the drops darkening the oil-tainted dirt beneath my feet. I was four steps away when the crooning sound began. It was muffled but insistent. I covered my ears. How many times had I heard those goatish syllables? In my youth, they had left me prone to fevers and nightmares, but as I grew older, I began to suffer from violent fugue states. Eventually, I began to lose touch with what was real and what wasn't, even reaching a point where I am still not sure if one of the doctors I visited was real or some elaborate hallucination.

It began to scratch at its prison with growing ferocity. Amid the noise of the machines and the bustle of the Scrapyard, only I could hear the sound. The metal of the trunk buckled and burst open. With a spidery motion, the Mother-Thing crawled to the ground. Its nostrils flared, and its wide, affectionate eyes easily found me.

Mad with terror, I fled, my heart pounding. Behind me, the lullaby of the Mother-Thing echoed through the maze of rusted cars and twisted metal, transforming the familiar Scrapyard into a labyrinth.

The rain began to fall in earnest, turning the dirt beneath me into mud. I didn't dare look back, but I could feel the Mother-Thing's presence close behind—not giving chase, just shadowing me like a parent watching over an errant child. That thought alone nearly drove me to my knees, but I couldn't afford to stop. I kept running.

The Scrapyard blurred around me. I dashed through a clearing. I saw a cluster of metal drums, their rusty surfaces marked with streaks of greasy residue. Some were closed tight, while others were missing their lids. Inside was a mixture of thick black sludge and murky liquid. I veered away from the drums and rounded another corner to find myself confronted by a wall of rused cars. Realizing I had trapped myself, a fresh wave of panic surged through me.

I turned on my heel and retraced my steps. Ducking under a low-hanging crane arm, I dashed down a narrow alley formed by two rows of crushed vehicles. I stumbled over a half-buried tire, barely catching myself before I fell. A too-large hand grasped at me, but I managed to pull away.

Then I saw it—the entrance to an old storage hut, its door barely hanging on its hinges. Sobbing with desperation, I lunged towards it and threw myself inside. The Mother-Thing's song stopped abruptly as I slammed the door shut and barricaded it with a toppled shelving unit.

Moments passed, and the scent of mildew and rust filled my nose. I pressed myself against the wall, trying to quiet my breath. Glancing around the hut, I realized the small window was too narrow to fit through, and there were no other exits besides the door I had just barricaded. My clothes, drenched with rainwater and sweat, clung uncomfortably to my skin.

Then, fingers scrabbled at the gap between the bottom of the door frame and the floor—long, thin fingers covered with thick red hair. They scratched and scraped at the wood, searching for a way inside. Then, the Mother-Thing began to prowl outside the storage hut. I waited, the sound of raindrops drumming against the hut's roof. Then I heard a bestial voice near the window, a grunting language I could not comprehend but still understood.

"Little one,
Why are you crying, why are you crying?
In the shadows of dreams, I sing to you."

I searched frantically for something, anything, to defend myself with. There was a rusty crowbar leaning against a filing cabinet. I grabbed it, the metal cool and heavy in my hands. It was a feeble weapon, but it was all I had.

"Little one,
Why are you running, why are you running?
In your broken memories, I call to you."

The maddening voice seemed to reverberate through my skull. My hands trembled around the crowbar, the weight of my fear almost too much to bear. Night had fallen entirely, and darkness pressed in on me from all sides.

"Little one,
Why are you running, why are you running?
In your broken memories, I call to you."

A sudden burst of light illuminated the sky, heralding the approaching storm. If there was thunder, I didn't hear it; the song of the Mother-Thing was all I knew. When the flash faded, and shadows returned, I found myself at the door. Somehow, I had moved the toppled shelf away.

"Little one,
Why are you trembling, why are you trembling?
In the storm, I embrace you."

My free hand was reached to open the door. The sound I made was a gurgling shriek. I pulled my hand back as though it had been burned. There was only one thing I could do. I raised the crowbar and smashed it against my face again and again.

"Little one,
Why are you struggling, why are you struggling?
In the mire of solitude, I found you."

I collapsed to the ground, my vision clouding over with red. My mouth quickly filled with blood as I mustered all my energy to strike myself twice more before losing consciousness.

"Little one,
Why are you weeping, why are you weeping?
In the agony of your heart, I howl for you."

When I awoke hours later, huge welts had been raised up on my face. One eye was swollen closed, and my nose was bent. When I coughed blood into my hand, there were chips of a tooth.

The storm was gone, and with it, my tormentor, but it was still the middle of the night. I wondered if any of my co-workers had looked for me or if they'd paged me on the speakers.

I stumbled out of the storage hut and walked out of the Scrapyard, heading home with unsteady steps. The potholes that riddled the streets of the Town were brimming with rainwater, undulating in time with some secret rhythm. I flinched whenever I saw my reflection in a shop window. Every few steps, I spat blood onto the damp sidewalk.

The lights in every trailer in the park were off except for Muriel's, casting a solitary glow. I wondered if she was seeing a client or cutting pictures from magazines. For a moment, I longed to see her, but instead, I headed home, deliberately avoiding her window to avoid being noticed.

Once I was home, I instinctively started packing a bag, but then I stopped myself. Where would I even go? How could I escape the creature that was born from my own inner torments and memories? Instead, I rummaged through some old supplies I had kept since my university days—a pen, a notebook, and some matches. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I filled the pages with words, recounting each terrible and absurd incident that led me to this point. It was surprisingly easy.

Now, as I put down my pen, I realize these words may never be read. Who are you? An investigator sorting through my belongings for evidence, or a laborer sent by park management to clear out my trailer so it can be rented again? Will you read this hastily scribbled diary or simply toss it aside?

The Mother-Thing patiently awaits me in the Scrapyard, an ever-present specter in both waking and sleeping realms. It calls to me relentlessly, its perverse affection promising a metamorphosis I dreaded but might always have been meant for.

There is no choice for me anymore, not really.

Tonight, after the owners and employees of the Scrapyard have left, I'll go back. But instead of confronting the heart of the nightmare, I'll let it pursue me for a while. I'll lead it towards the oil drums. I wonder if they will catch fire or explode.

My only hope is to survive long enough to hear the Mother-Thing's song become a scream.

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