Sinners (from Twisted Tales)
On my deathbed, I hear them; waiting. I see them move in the shadows, lurking through the darkness. Etching away at my guilt. They await my soul to hunt and claim as their own, to torment for eternity. To drag my spirit to their furnace, not to the land of the gods nor the pits of the underworld, but to the in-between. To burn eternally with blister upon blister as charred flesh melts away into the abyss. I know why they’re here, why they hunt me, why they wait for the dead. They are known as the Sluagh, collectors of dead sinners. We grew up fearing the tales of these creepers. Some laughed, saying it is just folklore, I was one of those fools. Now, at seventy-nine, I thought I would meet my maker, but that is not the case. I will be hunted by the Sluagh, and all because I am a sinner.
It happened many years ago, I hit him, it was me who took his life. It was me who hid the body. It was me who decided not to call an ambulance. I sped along the country road trying to get home, I’d also had too much to drink. My alcohol level was five times over the legal limit and the tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d driven this road many times in the same condition.
It was a Friday, like any other, and my colleagues persuaded me to have a drink after work.
“C’mon, Jimmy, just come with us for one pint. Just one.”
We sat and talked, mostly about our asshole boss, and ended the night slurring and laughing at someone falling asleep on their stool. Again, a typical Friday. I said my goodbyes and wobbled to the car. If a cop came along, I knew I could walk in a straight line. Well, that’s what I thought at the time. There were no breath-testers back then. My key found the ignition and glided in before the roar of the engine gave me a second wind. With the window down, the cold Autumn breeze circulated in the car, and ruffled through my embarrassing comb-over.
As the young man walked along the side of the road, in all black, he stumbled a little. Right at that very moment in time, that split second, I looked in my rear-view. If I had checked the mirror a minute before or after, he would still be alive. I saw his head turn as the lights blinded his vision, his eyes widened in shock and glimmered like a cat’s. His body mounted the hood and his head pummelled into the windscreen, smashing a circle-shaped mess right in the middle which extended to every corner like lightning. Blood filled the cracks, seeped through, and dripped on the dash. I put the brake pedal to the floor and the car screeched to a halt. A strong smell of burning rubber filled the car and clogged my nostrils.
With trembling hands, I wiped my eyes and rubbed my face in disbelieve. A long-sounding creak echoed in the night as I opened the car door and placed my foot on the shower of glass; it scratched against the tar on the road.
In the dark, the figure of the mass in the middle of the road looked to be moving and groaning. My pace quickened, he was still alive. I knelt beside him and turned him from his side onto his back. Dark blood oozed from his mouth.
“Help me, please!” he begged.
What could I do? If I had gotten help, they would have known it was me who ran him over. He passed out again. This was my chance. I gripped under his arms and dragged him along the ground over towards the dense trees and bushes. Through the woods I pulled him for two hundred yards, at least. A large hedge with a massive underground was too tempting. I pulled his body alongside it and rolled him under into the thicket, making sure he was faced down into the dirt. I gathered as much loose shrubbery as I could and covered the gap between the leaves and the body. He wasn’t dead yet, but I knew he would be soon enough. Guilt wrapped my soul and smothered it, but I wasn’t going to prison to be somebody’s bitch.
I drove home and parked the car around the back of the house, then removed the windscreen and used the winter cover for the car. Birds chirped in the trees close by, it was time for bed, my body and brain needed sleep.
I woke a few hours later with a sore head, dry mouth, and a crushed soul. A loud bang on the door made me spring from the bed, my heart vibrated against my ribs at the speed of sound. I thought they’d found me.
My wife was already up and had made breakfast. Like every Saturday morning, the boys were at football practice, so I knew it wasn’t them.
“Jimmy, dear. Are you up?”
I answered with a groan.
“It’s Frank from next door. Their boy, Luke, didn’t come home last night. Did you see him when you were out?”
Yes, that’s right, I had killed my neighbour’s son and covered it up. I’d watched Luke grow up from a quiet boy to a sociable young man. And now they’ll never see him again, not in one piece anyway. If the body was ever discovered, the animals and the elements would have done a good enough job to not tie it back to me or my car.
“No Tricia, I didn’t see him at all.”
If I was attached to a lie detector, the graph would be fluctuating up and down like it was on speed. Visions of a five-year-old Luke cycling by, a twelve-year-old building a go-cart, and a teenager kissing his girlfriend goodnight, plagued my thoughts. I let my friends believed their son just disappeared, that he might have done himself in or fell and hurt himself somewhere. They did a search of the area, but nothing turned up. A friend of mine brought a windshield over and replaced it within an hour. I cleaned the car and banged out the one big dent on the bonnet. All done.
They never found his body, and, on my deathbed, I feel the need to tell my wife of my crime, my cover up. I ponder on it for many days as the Sluagh stretch their limbs and their shadows grow. Their moans become louder, and fear consumes me. I know I am near death, so I decide not to hurt my wife, I’ll die with a heavy soul. The Sluagh will still come whether I confess or not.
A change in breath patterns is a clear sign I only had minutes to live as the ebb and flow of air slows like the sea on a calm day. It is then I see their eyes through the slit of my lids, the blackness, the torment, and the longing. They yearn to take me.
Tricia squeezes my hand, I feel the softness of her skin from her daily routine of rubbing baby oil on her face and hands giving her a youthful look. Hairs on my head are caressed, it is my eldest son. He’d done that since he was two. He’d sit on my shoulder and stroke my head.
A bright light flashes in my vision. I see myself at five-years-old playing ball with my dad…driving my first car…walking down the aisle with Tricia…holding my first born. All significant times in my life. Luke’s face as I was about to hit him. The images froze there, his face imprinted on my vision like the negative of a photograph. Darkness bleeds into the brightness in the shape of hands. It is time.
I look at my family as they sit around this empty vessel. Shards of black glass shot up from the ground, surrounding me, slicing me. I yell as they rip through me like a hot knife through butter. Excruciating pain envelops me as I ooze a black mass which is wrenched by the Sluagh. They scrape and tug at me, dragging my black soul out. It burns like I’ve been doused in fuel and set alight. They pull it in all directions with a murmur of ecstasy. I committed a terrible crime, and they are here to make sure I pay the price.
As the blackness diminishes, an inner bright light bursts out, maybe a chance of redemption after all. It feels like an angel within filled with goodness. I want it to go up, up into the bright sky. One of the Sluagh reaches into my chest and snatches the light. It’s held like a crystal ball, twirling it around, blackening the outside. The brightness dims and spreads within the globe until there is no light left. In one final swoop, they rip me from the entity I am which disperses into thin air and heaves my filthy soul into the abyss. They pile on me and tear at the black mass which remains, but I am unable to scream in agony. It is all part of the torment, to sense every infliction yet not be able to scream through it. This is my perpetual torture… and I deserve it.
Twisted Tales is now available on Amazon for Kindle here.