SUBTEXT: A Revisionist Fairy Tale Wherein We Discover That The Pied Piper Has Yet Another Bug Up His Ass (Part 2)
The front door was standing wide open.
Julie had never left a door open in her life.
Graham ran inside, slammed shut and bolted the door, and screamed for his wife. The pain of his wounds was worse but at least the bleeding was better. He stumbled toward the bathroom, flung open the medicine chest, and pulled out the peroxide and bandages.
He tore off his shirt and doctored the wounds on his shoulder and face as best he could, then sprinted into the den, pulling both hunting rifles from the wall-mounted rack and loading them. Then he took his father's old Luger off the mantel, loaded it, and shoved it in his back pants pocket, making sure he had room for extra rifle shells.
"Goddammit, Julie, answer me!" He stormed through the living room and into the kitchen, pulled a ten-inch fillet knife from the cutlery drawer, found a roll of electrical tape, and attached the knife to the side of his right leg.
Back in the living room he found Julie's copy of Misery on the floor, ripped in half, its pages drenched in urine and blood. A large pile of something dark and warm lay just to the left of the table. The smell made him dry-heave.
A furious search through the rest of the house turned up no sign of his wife. Graham collapsed in a corner, weeping loudly as the full impact of the last fifty minutes--Jesus it hasn't even been an hour! -- hit him.
He tried to make sense of it but couldn't. Bits and pieces of information swam to the surface of his mind and tried to fuse together into some kind of comprehensible whole--
--the library was a tragedy yes but the National Weather Service Radar said there had been no storm but the CHCFCV disagree because we are being stormed by pornography that will warp our moral ways but who the fuck cares when everyone is getting headaches all of a sudden Jimmy and the others at the group home are doing fine and quoting Van Gogh in clear voices with perfect enunciation and Depends aren't just for old people any more they're too busy trying to break through the windshield and make a meal out of your face and who has time to read these days just let Embassy Books on Tape save you the effort as you go the LAY-Z-FAT way because Voice Mail is right for your busy life--
--he looked up as the sun shone brightly through the window. He wondered if it were possible for a race to move forward so quickly that it wound up running in reverse and didn't even know it.
Then he heard the sound of approaching animals.
Their growls and grunts and howls drifted in and surrounded him. He rose to his feet, crossed to a window, and saw the street filling up with the beasts; naked, bleeding, and filth-encrusted, they chewed and snarled and bellowed and shrieked as they assembled before his house.
He smashed through the window with a rifle butt, then turned his weapon out and began firing, sweeping through the pack and splattering brains.
He had one head dead-bang in sight--
--and the beast turned around.
Somehow he knew it would be Julie even before her eyes found his. She was covered in shit and blood, her smile caked with mud and insects. She threw back her head and released a bitch's mating howl; three males scrambled at her, members hard and erect, and entered her through any available orifice.
Graham lowered his rifle, trying to remember how she'd looked in her wedding dress.
Julie wiggled her ass as the males came in and on her, all of them shuddering and snorting, digging into her flesh with their claws.
The pack advanced on the house.
And they charged forward.
Graham spun around and ran toward the stairs, taking the steps three at a time as he heard them smash through the windows and fracture the front door to splinters. The house filled with their cries.
He threw himself back-first against the wall at the top of the landing and fired down into them, bullets slicing through flesh and muscle to shoot out and peel away wood from the banister before ricocheting to the left and blowing an oil lamp to pieces.
The pack screamed and bellowed. A few bloodied beasts whimpered as they dragged their dying bodies to the side, licking their wounds while the rest vaulted over them and up the stairs toward Graham. He kept firing down, blood splattering over the walls as their barking grew louder.
But there were always more.
And they kept coming.
He'd never have enough bullets for all of them.
Graham looked down, saw the pool of oil from the smashed lamp spreading out, and dug into his pocket for the old tin lighter his father had once given him. He struck up the flame, made a wish, and tossed the lighter down--
--the flames blew immediately, searing at least four of the creatures who writhed and bawled and shook their flaming hair before running head-first into the nearest wall, snapping their necks like kindling and crumpling to the floor a wretched, flaming mass.
(What? Huh? What do you mean, "That's not right?"
Oh, I see, the bullet should haw started the fire when he shot the lamp earlier? Well, well, we have a critic in the audicnce, a Mr. I-Know-Better-Than-You.
People like you ruin the fun for everyone else, asshole, so don't bother me with your petty details!)
Smoke quickly engulfed the room and began churning up the stairs.
Graham whirled around and ran down the hall toward the attic door. Heavy tendrils of smoke reached the landing and started crawling toward him, shielding the dark, hulking, loping forms inside.
Graham wrenched open the door and began scrambling up the steps when something sank its teeth into his calf He howled in pain, grabbed the Luger, and twisted around to fire at the shadowy thing in the smoke, pumping bullets until he felt warm, wet globs of gore spatter against his face.
He kicked the thing away and slammed the attic door, bolting the lock.
Outside, the things hammered against the door, their screams so shrill and deranged they threatened to chew through Graham's skull and tear at his brain with thousands of jagged teeth.
He pulled himself up the stairs and into the sweltering heat of the attic. He dragged himself across the floor and fell against one of Julie's old storage trunks that held all of her late mother's possessions, books and magazines included.
Books and magazines.
The attic door buckled once, twice, then began to split down the center.
He tried forcing the lock on the trunk, failed, cursed, and shot it off its hinges. He tore through the contents until he found the books at the bottom.
There were twelve altogether.
Graham saw the titles and felt his stomach lurch.
Reader's Digest Condensed Books.
"Oh, fuck me with a fiddlestick," he whispered.
Outside, one of the beasts worked its howl into something that sounded like "reeeeeeeeee, reeeeeeeeee!"
Graham jumped to his feet and blasted through the attic window. "Here, read this!"
His first shot took off the top of one creature's head.
"This next one's always been a favorite of mine!"
He blew out a couple of stomachs with the next two rounds.
"How about a fairy tale or two?"
He pumped down a series of shots that opened up crotches and blew away jawbones.
Then he collapsed, shuddering and weeping.
The attic door was ripped back. The things came clawing up the stairs.
Graham reached out and grabbed one of the books and stood up so they could all see what he had in his hands.
"I'll read," he yelled down at them. "I'll ... I'll reeeeeeeeee!"
He chanced a quick glance outside.
The beasts were a thousand deep and growing.
Smoke curled up into the attic.
The pack squatted on their haunches, eyes glued to the book in his hands. They were silent, save for a few soft, anticipatory grunts.
Graham opened the book, noticed that the first few pages were missing, and decided to start with the first thing he found.
He wondered what would happen when his voice gave out.
He wondered how long it would take for the fire to reach the attic.
He wondered how he was going to see once the sun went down.
He read: "'The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph. They used to call me Piggy.'"
"... iggy ..." grunted the pack.
Graham cleared his throat.
Condensed books. What the fuck was he supposed to do, just add water and watch a real book grow from it?
He supposed that he should be grateful he'd never read this particular book before.
(You should know the rest. You do? Good We'll start with you here in front and work our way around. Everyone can finish the story.
"He remembered how close Buckeye Lake was--"
"--so he simply walked out of the house, unharmed by the flames, reading the story out loud--"
"--and the things followed him--"
"so he led them to the lake--"
"where he got into a rowboat--"
"rowed a mile out, still reading--"
"--and the things followed his voice and drowned."
Very good, very impressive. And what do we call that? Symbolism, yes!
And the moral of the story is?
Come on, stop looking at each other that way. We know he didn't get all of them but we're safe here, the Lord is on our side. How about an answer?
What is the mowrhuaklgwmph?
... thwppppppppp ....)
Author's Note: I would apologize for employing this ending but the Oddball Stories Act of 1995 stipulates that all horror/fantasy/mystery/suspense/science/speculative/whatever fiction is not really Literature and so must adhere to Sub-section 172.889 of the First Amendment of the OSA, which clearly states " ... since these types of stories are basically dumb, they must have dumb endings, otherwise publication is an offense punishable by painful and nasty acts, as well as many hefty fines to be determined and executed by the chief board members of the We're-Far-Too-Nice-To-Read-This-Kind-Of-Thing committee. To that end, what follows is a list of the Thirty-three Acceptable Dumb Endings."
I have employed ADE #17.
This disclaimer was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
This story was first published in Cemetery Dance in 1994.