Hearts In the
By Lamont A.
Virgil stumbled out of the bar and into the
gutter, helped along by a shove from the stout man with the tattooed arms who’d
warned him several times to leave his girlfriend alone. The forearm he was just
sober enough to get up over his face before he hit saved his teeth, but the
cracking sound was nonetheless alarming. The pain followed a few seconds later.
Knowing better than to turn to anyone in
the bar for help, he pulled himself up on a mailbox with the arm that still
bent in the right direction and staggered across the street to collapse in
another gutter, this time hitting his head on the curb. He laid there until the
sky splashed water in his face to rouse him. His first impression upon waking
was that someone was urinating on him.
“No! Leave me alone!” he shouted, trying to
cover his face with an arm he couldn’t move. He emptied his own bladder before
he realized he was alone and it was raining. It had been bright out when he’d
hit the pavement. Now the only light was the dirty yellow glow seeping through
the glass of the barroom window across the street. Virgil grunted as he rolled up
into the empty parking lot of an abandoned strip mall. Finally getting to his
feet after several tries that left fresh scrapes on his knees and palm, he made
for the cover of the awning of what had once been a thrift store.
“It’s not fair,” he whispered, his back
against the plate glass window. “I was just trying to be friendly. I didn’t
deserve this.” Something tapped on the
glass behind him causing him to lurch forward, nearly wetting himself again.
“What the hell?”
There was a face grinning at him, a black
streak carved through the dust above it where it had hit the glass and slid
down. It was a mannequin. Behind it, the cardboard boxes upon which it had
stood melted under a leaky roof. She stared at Virgil with painted blue eyes,
inviting him to come inside and warm himself next to her naked plastic body. It
didn’t matter that she had no hands. She was beautiful. None of the few girls
he’d been with had been that pretty, not even the ones he’d paid. He might have
been able to get by with his lanky ill-proportioned frame and long greasy black
hair if he’d had some other attributes to compensate for the deficiencies. If
he’d just been able to hold a job long enough to buy a car and some decent
clothes, or if he’d been able to summon the vocabulary to dazzle them with his
wit, he might have been able to compete for their affections. As it was, he had
nothing to offer anyone. He traced the outline of the mannequin’s face with a
quivering finger then leaned down to press his lips against the glass.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
asked a voice riding in on a peal of thunder. Virgil didn’t move. Reflected in
the glass, the policeman standing behind him seemed to be standing next to his
new love, claiming her for his own. It was always that way. Stronger men took
it all, leaving him nothing but loneliness and bruises.
“Got caught in the rain,” Virgil muttered
without turning around. “Just trying to get dry.”
“Come here,” the policeman ordered.
Seemingly impervious to the weather, the policeman was standing just beyond the
edge of the awning, his face veiled by the rain flowing off the brim of his
hat. Virgil cursed himself under his breath. He should have been paying
attention. He hadn’t even heard the cop pull up.
As soon as Virgil was close enough, the
policeman grabbed a handful of Virgil’s shirt and jerked him out into the rain.
In one quick motion, he spun him around and pulled his arms up behind his back.
Virgil screamed and slipped out of the policeman’s grasp; his legs unable to
support him as the pain shot up his arm and into his chest. His knees collided
with the pavement, taking his breath away as he fell forward. Not realizing,
or not caring, that Virgil’s
arm was broken, the policeman grabbed Virgil just above the elbow and tried to
stand him up. Virgil screamed again, louder this time, and again melted through
the policeman’s fingers, his weight no longer supported by muscles that had
gone numb. He landed face down in a pothole, the edges tearing into his cheeks
but sparing the nose that didn’t quite reach the bottom. The pothole was full
of water, and Virgil, unable to lift his head, turned it to the side to keep
“Please!” he shouted. “I think my arm is
The policeman didn’t answer. Virgil waited
with balled up fists and clenched teeth for the policeman to bring his
nightstick down on the back of his head and yank his arm back to cuff him.
Nothing happened. Minutes passed while the rain tapped steadily on the aluminum
awning a few feet away. What was the cop doing?
Taking a deep breath, he used his good arm to roll himself over onto his
back. He blinked away the rain in his eyes and looked around. He was alone. The
squad car was still parked on the edge of the parking lot, but the policeman
was nowhere to be seen. Something stank.
Between him and the car, a large pile
looked like rags heaved in the wind like a beating heart. Had that been there
before? Even with being still half drunk and in pain he should have noticed a
pile of garbage that large. He would have had to have walked around it on his
way up to the thrift store. Where the hell had it come from? Raising himself up
on his elbow, he stared at it. A faint mist drifted off of it, like the breath
of some animal caught out in the cold. Suddenly, the center of the pile
exploded upward, briefly taking the shape of a man before collapsing in on
itself. Virgil thought of the jack-in-the-box his brother used to scare him
with when they were children, only that box had ejected a clown. This thing had
vomited up a ghost made of plastic and rags, and then sucked it back in again,
smothering the ghost under a pile of garbage.
The rain had faded to a drizzle, allowing
Virgil to make the pile out more clearly. It wasn’t all rags, plastic bags and
broken bottles, and it was moving. Parts
of it glistened in the light of the streetlamp that suddenly lit up as the
thing flowed toward the pole. A tendril snaked out toward the police car and
the headlights flashed on. It was as though it was turning on the lights to get
a better look at him.
The thing moved fast. It was on Virgil
before he could get to his feet, flowing over his legs. It stopped when it
reached his waist, and part of it stretched out, congealing into a pink knob
about the size of Virgil’s head inches away from his face. It was like some
kind of gelatin, gurgling as it shifted the chicken bones across its surface.
It sucked the bones in and a pack of cigarettes poked through, only to be
displaced by a beer can a second later. It was as though it was stirring
itself, searching its bowels for something useful. Unable to move, Virgil
whimpered and tried not to vomit as the head of the policeman shot up out of the
undulating mass over his legs. A snake-like tentacle, about the circumference
of a man’s finger, extended up to stab into the policeman’s ear. Virgil closed
his eyes and began to pray.
When nothing happened, Virgil cautiously
opened one eye and saw his own face staring back at him. He was looking into a
cracked rearview mirror protruding from the center of the knob. In what looked
like blood, the thing had written “Who are you?” It was disconcerting, not only
because the question had been poised by a monster, but because nobody had ever
bothered to ask him it before. Nobody had ever cared who he was.
“Virgil,” he stammered. “Virgil Lucas.”
“Virgil Lucas,” said the head of the
police officer. The head flapped its lips for a bit after making the
pronouncement, but the motion was unaccompanied by any sound. Finally, it
gurgled up a pink froth and hissed, “Better. Much better.”
“What are you?” Virgil asked, trying not
to look at the head.
“I don’t know for sure,” it said, its
volume and pitch rising and falling with each word as it became accustomed to
speaking through the dead lips. “Maybe it was some accidental witchcraft that spawned
me, all the ingredients coming together by chance. I know I am of the gutter. I
am the child of a thousand tears, formed from the cells shed by scraped knees
and bloody knuckles. The slaughterhouse down the street provided my blood. My
skeleton came from dead dreams, the losing lottery tickets and bottles that
never touched more than one set of lips, the wedding ring tossed out of a car
window, and the tissue used to dab the eyes of orphans. My soul…” It paused,
the head choking as its mouth filled with blood.
“Your soul?” Virgil asked. “What about your
“I remember a young girl, an ugly thing,”
it said, “The shame of her mother and father, she had gone through life
unnoticed and unloved. I remember a razorblade. I remember blood.”
Virgil raised his good arm to stare at the
white scars on his wrist. He remembered his father, his hand around a fifth of
whiskey, shouting from the couch that he should try to cut deeper next time.
“Tell me about the girl,” Virgil said. “What
was she like?”
“She liked to draw and to sing, but no one
ever looked at her art, or listened long enough to tell her she had a nice
voice. She died in a culvert not far from here,” the thing said. “Forgotten, her
body turned to mush and ran out into the streets. I don’t think anyone ever
looked for her.”
“I would have looked for her!” Virgil said.
“I woulda got her help and then taken her home to recover. I don’t care what
she looked like. I woulda taken care of her and hung her pictures on the wall.
I would have listened to her sing.”
“It’s too late,” the thing lamented,
suddenly going limp. The head lolled to the side and the knob of flesh dropped
down onto Virgil’s chest. It felt warm against his skin, making him forget
about the pain in his arm and the cold pavement under his back. There was a
sense of belonging as his fingers sank into the gelatinous flesh. The creature
cooed with the policeman’s mouth and squeezed tighter. Virgil felt his kneecap
dislocate, but he didn’t care. He was afraid if he complained she would stop. She?
Yes, no matter what it looked like, no matter how awful it smelled, this was a
female who embraced him. She was more of a woman than any of the ones who’d
turned their backs on him when he approached, or laughed at him when he’d
offered to buy them a drink.
As she pulled herself over his head like a
blanket, shutting out the cold and the rain, Virgil saw the policeman’s head
slide out of her and roll across the parking lot. She didn’t need it anymore.
He could hear her thoughts as she flowed into his ears, telling him she loved
him. He tried to tell her he loved her too, but she had already entered his
mouth and nose, slithering into him, filling his lungs and stomach.
“Its going to be alright,” she whispered.
“We will always be together.”
The wind blew rain into the face of the
mannequin, still staring at them from the window, painting tears on its
reflection in the dirty glass. No longer alone, they slithered off to the
gutter and entered their new home through the grates of a storm drain.
work has appeared in numerous online and print
venues including Mystery Weekly, Horla, Yellow Mama, Cosmic Horror Monthly,
Lovecraftiana, and other magazines, podcasts and anthologies. His short story
collection, "Souls In A Blender" is scheduled for
release by St. Rooster Books October 2021.