He's going crazy, Dom thought. It happened a lot here. He stared at him.
Cree was shivering, but not from cold. The prison cell was as warm as microwaved honey-bun.
Cree's jaw was working and he was grinning, but no words were coming out. Just short croaking noises. Irritating as hell.
Yep, he'd lost it, Dom just knew it. Cree had even pissed his drawers. Dom knew what that meant. Cree had cracked.
He'd seen it before. A mental health crisis. That's what the doctors called it. But it was just pain, Dom thought. Pain from a wound that needed to heal, but couldn't. It was pure insanity, come to roost here, again, like it always did. Some could take it, but guys like Cree cracked open like bad eggs. Bugged out of their own heads.
It always started in the head, seeped into the heart, coiled up inside of your stomach and made your legs tingle until they burned. Dom had felt it many times, especially when he got really mad. Like right before a good fight. Like the time that dude tried him. Grabbed his privates. That memory of that fight still seemed fresh in Dom's mind.
But the fighting always kept Dom sane, he thought. Made him tougher than the other punks. Smarter than the rest. The strong survived, he chanted. They always did.
Dom was a survivor, he told himself. A long-haul con and he was going to do his time and ring that bell. He was going to march out of those front gates one day, a free man, ready to take on the world all over again, but this time, by the balls. This time he would make them pay. He would make them all pay.
No screwing around in the future, Dom mused. Just one big score and then chicks and booze. Maybe a nice spread too. A big swimming pool. Parties. Guns, lot of those. And killing. Lots more of that too, but less dope this time. Dope made you lose it. Made you drop your edge. Get caught. But they were so damned good, he remembered. So perfect. Then maybe just a little taste of dope. A controlled taste this time. He wouldn't go overboard, except with the killing. The killing helped too.
Payback time was coming. Dom brooded about that as he watched Cree standing there in his piss drawers, shaking now.
A falling star flashed across the sky, exploded on the horizon. Dom awoke with a start. A cold sour sweat, in the hot damp. His blanket soaking wet, like he'd whizzed, but he checked and he hadn't.
What had he been dreaming about? It was right there, on the edge of his thoughts. He grasped for it.
Cree. It was about Cree. Cree's depression. Twenty-five years, the kid had. Too many. He couldn't take it. So he had, supposedly, off'd himself. Dom smirked at the inner joke of it. Rubbed the crust from his eyes. Pulled the sweat blanket off. Let himself air dry on the top bunk. Flapped the blanket for a quick breeze. Stared at the low ceiling in the half-dark, wondering if he should wake or snooze a few more minutes.The guards hadn't come by yet anyway.
Something seemed to move on the ceiling now. A dim collection of legs. Then it was gone. A dot at the edge of his vision, fading into the shadows. It was probably an insect, Dom thought. One of Cree's lost spiders.
Those stinking little spiders, Dom remembered. Always crawling everywhere, making webs, bringing in other dead insects -- disgusting. They had argued often about those spiders and Cree's fascination with them. Lizards were a man's pet, Dom told him. Lizards ate spiders.
"One of those damned things just gave me the eye," Dom complained once. "Some kind of jumping spider."
"He just thought you were in his territory," Cree said.
"Yeah, well, I killed the little screwball," Dom replied. "You want the body?"
Cree didn't respond.
Dom laughed. "Check the crapper!"
I had a bad dream, he thought. That was all. A nightmare. Cree "the demon spider lover" was trying to haunt him from hell, Dom thought.
"Screw you, Cree," he said to the empty cell. Empty, except for a spider that was curled up in the shadows above his head. A spider? One more straggler? He deal with him later, when it was lighter. Smash him. Just you wait, spider.
He imagined Cree again at the window, where he used to stand for hours. Elbows on the dusty concrete windowsill, still wearing yesterday's blue striped uniform. His prison garb. Watching everything and crying. Sobbing like a damned sissy.
God, how he hated that whimpering kid. The kid who couldn't hold his bowels, puked at nearly every meal and slept in his own filth for days -- before the guards would make him clean it up. Then he'd just do it all over again.
The rage started to build again, even though Cree was gone. "Get out of my head punk!"
It didn't work.
He didn't smell so good either. Even after he cleaned up. New mattresses didn't matter either. A clean uniform was stained mess in hours.
Like something dead maybe. But Cree hadn't cared. Cree just liked to look through the barred window out onto the prison yard every morning. Watch the dull orange sun-ball as it crept over the razor wire and glinted off of his pet spider that had made its web between the bars of the window.
"Beautiful." That's what Cree used to say about his favorite spider, not the sunrise. He hated the days and the sun and just about everything else.
"Such beautiful creature. I wish I was him, you know. Just crawl around, biting other bugs, bringing home the food, sticking it in the spider fridge."
Then Cree would laugh. Insane bouts of it.
"Shut the hell up, Cree!" Dom usually chest bumped him then. "Or I'll stick you. You hear me punk? I will stick you so fast, Cree! Just test me, man. Test me one more time!"
Dom hated spiders and he hated Cree. The kid was always spouting off. Most of the time about his furry little spider. Sometimes about his family. Then crying. Hours catching flies and crickets to feed the damned spider, while dripping tears and puking. It was a freaking circus, Dom mused, if the stench hadn't been so bad.
And the thing, Cree's favorite spider, had gotten huge, fat and furry. Cree even let him crawl all over him. His hands, arms, under his shirt. You could see the wadded lump of it sometimes in places it should not be. Dom wondered it it ever bit him, but it didn't seem so.
"You know, Dom...it drinks tears and it will even drink my blood," Cree said once.
Dom just shook his head. "Why don't you just piss on it then? Maybe it likes that too."
Cree didn't answer. Every now and again he'd talk to his spider. "It's okay. He's just kidding. Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Here, look what daddy has for you today."
Cree would give the spider his daily catch from the Inmate Dining Hall. Roaches, beetles, even a few ants. The thing would grab it from his hand, inspect it, then scramble back to its web, bundle the trophy and in no time it was back for a second morsel.
What a pair, Dom thought.
But Cree saw nothing now. Dom saw to that. He was dead. Dead and gone, thank God. Dom laughed.
Dom kept reminding himself about that. It would take time, he thought. Time to forget Cree, but not how he died. Cree didn't really hang himself. Dom just got tired of his crying. And his stupid spider. And his stink. And his puking. And...
It didn't matter now, anyway. Dom shook his head. Agreed with himself.
On a morning, just like this one, about a month ago, Dom had choked Cree out and flopped him over the second tier railing. Hung him by his bed sheets with big fat knots.
It was suicide to order. No witnesses. Done just after morning meal-call when everyone was ducking out for some grub. Dom checked, didn't see anyone, tossed Cree's body over the railing behind the stairwell, so the guards didn't see from the Control Room, cinched the sheet and then headed to breakfast.
A smile worked at Dom's face now, at the memory of it.
After all of that, after they cut Cree down, questioned Dom after a good breakfast, found him innocent, they let him go back to his cell. Let him snooze in peace.
Then Dom had looked for that damned spider. He didn't snooze. Not immediately.
Oh how he hated spiders. He skulked up to the window, where Cree always stood, checked the spider's home, but came up empty. Not even a bit of web.It was like it knew. Closed up shop and departed. Took its web and all. Weird, Dom thought. Gave him the creeps.
"Good riddance," Dom said. A two-fer. "Cree and his fat ugly hairy spider - gone!" He said it too loud. Dared the insect to react. Maybe crawl out from under Cree's bed, but he had checked there.
What am I thinking? There's not spider now. So Dom had taken his second nap of the morning. Happy in the peace. Serenity at last, he thought.
"I'm glad both of you are gone," he said to no one.
But today, a month later, a blinding pain awoke Dom. A pinch on his right foot. A sting of pain so wicked, it made Dom's nose itch. Made it run with snot like bad prison wine.
And the pain worked its way up his leg. Coursed into his groin next, then upwards again. It was such a shock. So fast, was the pain. So quick to radiate into his chest and arms. Explode in his head. It was the worst pain he'd ever felt. Worse than being raped by a gang thugs in the Prison Laundry -- and that had happened once.
Was this death, Dom wondered? A heart attack? But why did it begin in his foot?
A queasy feeling grabbed at his stomach, then Dom's heart began to race.
What was happening? Dom began to pant. Spit phlegm onto his pillowcase. Coughed and gurgled as the pain leaked into every part of his body. It was so intense, Dom thought. Just like withdrawals, but double the pain.
"Jesus," he said through clenched teeth. He tried to roll out of bed. Get to the door. Call a guard.
"Holy Christ," he whispered, in agony now. Can't move.
"Holy God..." Now only a whisper.
There was a smell too. A putrid stench crept into the cell from the barred window. Reminded Dom of garbage. Maybe a combo. Meat, bacon, ham, vegetables and urine, rotting together in a nice sack somewhere near his window.
Dom concentrated, tried to separate just one more piece of information from the pain and the scent, lingering in his cell. Maybe it was important. Like how if you were having a stroke you might taste metal in your mouth. He could tell the doctors about this stench.
Laundry detergent? Maybe. Cornbread? Probably, but maybe that was the Dining Hall. And what else? Cree. Cree?
Dom grunted as his eyes seemed to explode. He saw those little white-hot stars. He turned his head again. It took extreme effort. His ears burned and his neck felt like rubber.
At the window where Cree use to stand, something fuzzy was there now. The stench flowed from that spot, not the window and not garbage, but from him. From it.
From Cree? But Cree was dead. But there he was. He wasn't dead? He was standing by the window again?
Cree was staring and talking to this huge spider. It was the size of a dog now, with black fangs and emerald green eyes -- just sitting there on the window sill. Two of its legs were embracing Cree. Hugging him. Tears of joy spilled from Cree.
What the hell was going on?
Dom tried to say something, anything, but his jaws seemed utterly clenched. An involuntary vice of grinding teeth holding back a gore, forcing its way up.
"I killed you!" Dom tried to say. But his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. He gurgled instead. Then gave up as more gore filled his mouth, the acid of it burning his nostrils and tongue.
I hung you man, he wanted to say. I saw you die. Nothing but moans escaped him. You were dead.
Now who was having the breakdown? Dom closed his eyes. Tears began to well up. He opened them again. Shook his head. Bits of vomit sprayed the wall.
The apparition remained at the window. It began to coalesce. Was it Cree? Am I awake? A blackness with form? But also anger. Hatred. Evil.
What is happening? Dom asked himself. Am I dying? Am I already dead?
Dom saw through Cree's eyes then. His viewpoint shifted, like an out of body experience?
Dom was now Cree as he looked out of the prison cell window. But things were all wrong. It was not the same prison yard, exactly.
The guards were doing their morning checks on the yard. That was normal, but the mist was not.
The people of the mist, Cree had called them when he was alive, like moving wraiths, seeming to mill around at random.
Dom had just let him rant then. But maybe he should have listened.
"You see them, Dom?" Cree was saying. The dead Cree was talking in his head. Making him look.
Am I you now? Dom asked.
Some guards were tapping the fences with metal clubs. Others were talking on their radios as they moved along. Still others sipped coffee from paper cups and kicked the dirt in the yard for no apparent reason. Others were checking locks, pulling on chained-up fences or peering into darkened barred windows. A peaceful, serene, almost idyllic scene, for a prison.
But the mist kept rolling in. Swallowing them.
I see them, Dom said to himself. As if his thoughts could answer what ever had asked the question. Cree?
But things changed rapidly.
As Dom watched, the guards and all the rest, caught fire.
It was a shock. Dom tried to force himself away from the window. Tried to escape, but he could not move.
Human torches, now running, swinging clubs at each other, biting, gorging on detached limbs, screaming, growling. Flinging bleeding flesh into the air, like missiles. Cartwheeling arms. Fluid spirals, then thumps as the appendages struck the wall next the the cell's window.
Dom was shocked again. The pain in his eyes and head only matched by the horror before him. Through the eyes of Cree the dead in the scene began to flash in the bolts of black lightning. Satan's flash bulbs in rapid succession. Then crimson lightning stabbing at everything. The trees. Buildings. The flaming guards.
A flickering movie nightmare is three dimensions, with heat and stench to match.
The yard -- the scene -- reversed itself now. Like a negative photograph. The fiery people turned black, with grayish flames licking the white air around their heads. Heads aflame. Mouths vomiting glowing white bile. Screeches.
Birds, which often held fast to the razor-wire along the fences, burst into black-gray flames and flew off, leaving a trail of gray smoke in the glistening white sky. Specks of throbbing black stars dodging the spiraling limbs thrown at them from below.
A nearly black sun sent spears of impossibly violet light outward, singeing the buildings and the nearby trees. Bushes and rooftops burst into gray-black flames. Smoke reached toward a sickeningly flashing sky.
The outline of the fences, now a stark gray, seemed to wave in a desert heat peculating from the reddening grasses of the prison yard. The razor-wires, attached to the tops of the fences, lashing out in unison. The fiery people fighting back, even as they were decapitated, often stumbling over their own heads in the melee.
The fences themselves became a tangle of angry red-bellied white snakes, striking at the fiery people and even themselves.
It made no sense to Dom, unless he had somehow stumbled into hell. In any case, it was better than this pain. This suffocating life.
As Dom watched through Cree's dead eyes, a molten field of gruesome forms began to move strangely. Angular things jumped back and forth in the melting red grasses. Shapes like zebra tigers, two-headed spiked bears, insect-like guerillas wielding spears, all rushing madly into the ever growing demolition of life.
But Dom felt safe. You can't get me, demons, he thought. He laughed at his own pain. Was getting used to it now.
The fiery people began to fight the jumping things in the prison yard below, but these beasts, like car sized crabs, were too fast. Skittering and chopping. The fiery people were mowed down wholesale.
Splashes of black on red. All back-lighted in the violet dead sun. Flashing in the lightning from an ancient place.
It renewed Dom's nausea. Compacted the vomit into his throat.
Twisting bodies and other forms, crashing into one another, huge fangs impaling, screaming, shrieking and dying on the now smoldering red grasses. Wet with burning viscera and gnarled bones. Flames and smoke. Screams and blows. Then the inevitable crunching as the beasts devoured the prey.
The fighting below continued, but the ferocity of it was abating.
The things had come from below the yards, from some place deep in the earth, under the smoking grounds. And they were done with the fiery people now. Done consuming them.
And yet, they were still famished.
Dom laughed inwardly. What a show, demons. What's next?
They wanted something more. Something else. Tastier. Something evil. Something hateful.
Dom felt a focus now. Something new and cold. It was like a knife ripping into his spine, before it was plunged into his back. A premonition of evil.
The things, the beasts of the yard, seemed to sense something. That missing thing they needed. Snouts raised into the white sky, seemed to sniff the ashy air. Heavy huffy sounds. Black nostrils long and pointed, wet with blood. White saucer eyes, like beacons. Over-sized triangular shaped heads, swinging back and forth, trying to find the source of scent. Biting the ground. Roaring and screaming now. Over and over.
Would it never end? Dom watched the confusion of monsters.
They found it. The thing they wanted. The thing they had to have now. Had to drain of its life, now. Make it scream, now. Eat it alive, now.
They moved en masse, like a pack of insatiable gargoyles, toward him -- his cell. Toward Dom. Dom's soul froze.
Cree the dead, was calling them. His black mouth open, howling. Head spinning. Fists pounding. Spiders, millions of spiders, pouring from every orifice of his body. Creating a virtual tornado around him. Lifting him as he sprayed a never ending stream of vomit out of the window onto the prison yard. Signalling them. Letting the worst of the things down there that Dom was here. He was here!
And Dom was Cree.
Cree was calling them! Dom was calling them.
Why am I doing this? Dom screamed silently. Get me out of this body! Or this demon soul!
More silent screams from his displaced body still on the bed, foaming at the mouth, teeth still clenched in an eternal and horrible suffocation.
Cree was using his own rotten smells of death. Letting them know there was a better meal here, in this cell. Prepared. Frozen in place. A turkey ready for carving. Him. A soiled pile of shaking meat, near death. Ready for Hell's picking. Moments from ejecting its wicked soul into the abyss of hate.
Dom wanted to lash out at Cree. Crush the spiders crawling all over the cell. Freaking flying spiders from hell, landing all over him now. Getting into his eyes, mouth, on his legs...biting over and over. Swarming like ants.
I'll hang Cree all over again, Dom screamed. Nothing but silence. Hang his ghost. Silence.
Get out of my head, he told the ghost. He flinched repeatedly. Visions poured in. He tried to roll in his bed. This was not real, he said to himself. It couldn't be.
Dom tried clutch at his chest. He was going back and forth now. From Cree's form to his own body. But he couldn't move from the bed. Couldn't even move his hands now. God, he thought. When will this end?
They were coming!
Let me go! Let me die.
He could hear their scratching now. They were outside. Climbing the outer walls. Horrible sounds of breaking concrete, rebar being ripped from the outer walls of his cell, but he still could not move. Could not fight.
Dom was frozen in place. Two places. In Cree and in his own body.
Steel bars were being pried apart and he was motionless. Snouts fighting to get into his cell and Dom was powerless to react. Teeth and claws and giant white eyes. Crumbling concrete and the God awful squealing. Fighting each other for the prize. Shattering themselves, for him.
Then shrieks rent the morn. Success! The feeding hoard was here. Such purity of fear, Dom thought.Breathing rapidly now. A acid taste. A metallic smell. Was he stoking out now?
His Dom bladder released.
Dom felt like his whole body would explode. But suddenly, there was no pain. His heart calmed and his eyes focused for the finale. Like a dinner table, he thought. I am their last meal. My deflating lungs are ready.
And he was back. Home! In his own body again, completely.
God-like creatures, all black, infinite tendons, shiny and swollen, were scrambling for a place at the table. His table. His feast. He was their prize.
Dom wanted to leave his body again. Get back into that Cree thing. The thing that showed him all of this. It seemed safer there now. Away from these things.
They lined up, waiting for some signal. Anticipating. Salivating. Shoving each other. Unsheathing talons. Rotten meat breath. Defecating in preparation. Shifting around each other, for the best position. The biggest portion of his sweaty flesh. Digging in their clawed hind paws into the concrete. Howling over and over.
Tension was building. Some outward energy, preparing.
Dom's ears were past ringing now.
Then it began.
Dom heard a gurgling scream. His own.
In the last moments, as his body shook volently under the attack of teeth and claw, as talons ripped -- as he was shredded -- Dom's head lolled to one side. His neck torn open, drowning in his own gore, but somehow, during this last, he was able to focus. Focus on the ceiling...
Above his feet, from the ceiling, hanging fat and moving slowly, purposefully, Cree's spider was creeping up its sticky web. In no hurry. Seemingly satisfied, bored even.
Dom looked back down, to see the beasts one last time, to take in the last horror of his life. But his cell was quiet, clean and locked, just like he always kept it. He lay there, in his boxer shorts, peacefully.
The only thing Dom noticed before his life ebbed away, was a small bite on his big toe. A welt had developed there.
Crap, he thought...a spider's bite.
© 2016 Jack Shorebird