The Mustang was in pristine condition,
even though it was almost twenty years old. Perry’s grandfather had kept it in
a decrepit old barn under a blue tarp. The old man waxed and polished its jet-black
finish until his fingers were too arthritic to do anything else.
His grandfather was freshly in the
ground now, and Perry had the sports car all but flying at a steady 85. The
windows were rolled down and the chilly November air licked at his black hair
and prickled the skin on his stubbled face. The sun was just beginning to dip
below the horizon and Drew was in the passenger seat, sparking a joint stuffed
with Acapulco Gold, smirking at nothing special.
“Pass it,” Perry said.
He pressed the
accelerator down a little more, edging the speedometer to 90 as his left-hand
tap-tap-tapped along to the heavy metal music revved up to full-tilt boogie:
Venom’s Black Metal.
The highway was desolate, surrounded by pine trees and not
much else, the road dusted with needles. It was beginning to wind more and more
and grow narrow with each curve. The triple shot of Applejack Perry had thrown
back before they blazed out may not have been the best idea, he thought.
Neither was the weed, but this was a celebration of sorts, and Perry wasn’t
going to be a lame-ass no matter how buzzed he felt.
Drew handed him the joint, and Perry
took a long pull. The creamy smoke was just swimming its way back up his
esophagus when Drew screamed, “Shit!” and the Mustang pummeled into something
in the road.
The rear of the car whipped hard to the right and then to
the left as Perry slammed his foot down on the brake pedal, leaving behind two
black lines of burned rubber that were still steaming when the car squealed to
a stop. The boys tumbled out of the car, hearts racing like the devil’s sex
drive, stumbling over to whatever they hit.
Perry was still choking on the smoke. His eyes burned and
it felt like something had exploded in his chest. He silently prayed that
whatever lay in a pile up ahead was an animal, a big sonofabitch. Drew was
sobbing and pulling at his curly brown locks with both hands, his back already
soaked in sweat that prickled like an ice-bath in the November air. He banged
his knee hard against the dash when the car made impact, leaving a nasty purple
bruise, but other than this, he was okay.
Perry had his phone out, flashlight poised at the crumpled
thing that lay in front of them. Brain spewed out from the back of the old
woman’s head, looking like baked beans and raw hamburger meat, mingled with
thin strands of ghost white hair and skull fragments. The right side of her
face was in profile: an eyeball had been pushed out by force and dangled by its
optic nerve above her hollowed cheek; her lips stretched upward into a
harlequin’s smile. Her ear was gone: in its place, a hole pumped out blood in
short bursts that grew further and further apart as her pulse faded. Her entire
tongue jutted straight out of her toothless mouth, frozen in time.
The smell was the worst part. The impact must have caused a
massive pile of shit to squeeze out of her as if she were a giant tube of
Crest. Even in the fresh, piney air, the stench was king.
She wore a dark brown woolen shawl that ended just above
her gnarled bare feet. She still grasped tightly at a thick, oaken walking
stick with a serpent’s head handle.
Perry vomited up the half-digested chili cheese dog and
vanilla milkshake he had scarfed down at the DQ Grill and Chill, commingled
with the booze. It came up in a violent stream that showered down onto the old
woman’s feet in meaty chunks. It reminded him of the brains, and he heaved
again until there was nothing left.
Drew was shaking his head, pecking at his phone with a
trembling hand. Perry saw what his friend was doing and got a hold of himself.
“What the fuck, Drew?”
“I’m calling 911.
Who knows! Maybe she’s still alive.”
Perry slapped the cellphone out of Drew’s hand and followed
it up with a sharp wallop to the back of his head, the strike so loud it echoed
in the desolation.
Drew was much bigger than Perry. Fresh from a spring season
of wrestling and rippled with muscle, he was not the guy you wanted to love
tap, even if you were his best friend.
“Are you nuts?” Perry said in an all-too-calm voice that
startled both of them. “She’s creamed, man.”
Drew rubbed the back of his neck, a single tear sliding
down his cheek. “Don’t do that again. Ever.”
“Sorry,” Perry said, “and I am. But I had to. This has
manslaughter written all over it. That’s five to ten.”
“I wasn’t driving,” Drew said, shrugging. He was still
rubbing his neck.
“Yeah, well,” Perry said, “you’re the one with the weed,
right? And we’re both high. That’s a felony. I’m not going down for this by
myself. No way.”
“That’s cold,” Drew said.
“Cry me a river. Come on: we gotta move her and get the car
out of the road.”
“I’m not touching her,” Drew said. “No way am I touching a
Perry grasped his friend’s shoulders hard. “Drew, please!”
His voice carried a tinge of panic. “I need you firing on all cylinders here.
You’re right. You weren’t driving. But this is my life we’re talkin’ about
here. How long we been friends? Forever, right? I need your help right now more
than ever. I can’t do this on my own.”
Perry thought for a moment.
“Here, how about
this: we’ll move her out of the road. Yeah, we’ll move her out of the road, and
then get in the car and come up with some sort of game plan. That sound okay?
Afterward, if you still want to call the cops or an ambulance or whatever,
we’ll call. I just want to think about this, really hard. And she’s dead, buddy.
She ain’t getting up from this. Come on. What do you say?”
“Ah, shit, Perry,” Drew said after a beat. “Fine. But I got
They got her out of the road easily.
She was as light as a husk, more clothing than body. Perry sat on the hood of the
car, the heel of one patent leather boot on the bumper. He had already smoked a
Marlborough down to the filter and was sucking his second one down fast.
Both he and Drew examined the car
end to end. There was virtually no damage other than a penny-sized dent
speckled with blood, presumably where the crone’s head had collided with the
car. Aside from the skid marks, it was like they had never been there.
Perry said, “We should just get the hell out of here.”
Drew automatically uttered a single “no.” The fact that the
old woman was dead slowly began to dawn on him, though. “What the hell was she
doing out here, anyway?” he said, snagging the cigarette from Perry’s mouth and
taking a long drag.
Perry reached into his back pocket
shook out another one from the box. “Probably lives out here somewhere,” he
said, sparking his lighter. “An old hermit or something. She ain’t gonna be
missed, man. Christ, she’s not even wearing any shoes.”
“You don’t know that,”
flicking the cigarette into the woods. “She might have a family. Man, don’t you
even give a shit that you ran someone down?”
“Of course I do,” Perry
said. “But I
gotta think about myself here. See where I’m coming from, man: senior year’s
almost halfway over. We’re about to graduate in five months. You with your
wrestling scholarship at Cornell, and I got the band. This would ruin all of
that, wipe it all away in one fell swoop. You know how many pot-smoking dudes
involved in vehicular manslaughter Cornell accepts? Zero is my guess.”
Drew spit. “Man, you really
here. I can’t believe this is happening. I told you to slow the fuck down. You
never listen to me, Perry! In our whole entire existence as friends, you never
goddamn listen to me.”
“That may be true,” Perry
what the hell can we do? You want me to say you were right? Yeah, okay, you
were right. I shouldn’t have been driving. But we can’t turn back time here.
She’s dead, and we’re not.”
“What if she has a family?”
muttered to himself.
“What if she doesn’t?
What if she’s
been livin’ out here on her own off the land for twenty fuckin’ years? We’ll
never know. Come on, man, think about this for a second.”
There was a long moment where neither
of them said anything. The breeze picked up, sending dead leaves and pine
needles into a swirl like tendrils of black smoke from a witch’s cauldron. A
loon cried out. The tall pines rocked in the wind.
Finally, Drew sighed. He threw up
hands. “Alright! Ball’s in your court. At this point, I just want to go home.”
“What do we do now?”
“I figure we take her a little
into the woods and just leave her. Let nature take its course.”
“What if someone stumbles onto
Perry looked around and said, “Who?
We’ve been out here for almost an hour and not a single car has driven by.”
Drew nodded. “Let’s just
get this over
“Fine,” Perry said.
Rigor mortis had already begun to
in. This made the body heavier than before, but not by much. She couldn’t have
been more than sixty pounds dripping wet, Perry thought. The part of her head
where her brain was exposed looked black and endless in the moonlight. Perry
stared into it, mesmerized by the damage he had wrought on someone he hadn’t
even known existed. He shook it off. The sooner they got the old bitch in the
woods, the sooner they could get the hell out of there, back to their lives.
When Drew grabbed her ankles, the
shawl drifted up past her knees exposing a pair of ancient legs, paper thin
skin, hairless and mapped with varicose veins that bulged blue. She was ice
“Come on, Per. Pick her up.”
Perry ran his sweat-ridden hands
underneath her shoulders, trying desperately to avoid the sticky mess of
brains. The booze and the weed must have been wearing off because the full
extent of what he had done was rearing its ugly head into the situation, and he
had no choice but to take it.
He scooped her up and Drew followed
his lead. They began moving her deeper into the woods, the moonlight shunned by
the trees. Drew kept tripping over his boots in the darkness.
“Walk straight, man,”
Perry said. “I
don’t want to have to pick this thing up again.”
“I can’t see shit, and
I’m high as a
kite right now. I’m trying my best.”
They walked a few more yards into
forest, and Perry finally settled on a spot behind a birch tree. A rather large
pile of dead leaves had formed under the tree: a perfect spot to keep the
situation as discreet as possible for the time being.
“Set her down here,” Perry
let her shoulders go. Her head hit a thick root bulging out of the leaves, and
some more grey matter plopped to the ground.
“Jesus!” Drew said, still
ankles. He set them down gently, as if that would make up for the whole mess,
and began covering her with piles of leaves. When the body was hidden, and
Perry seemed satisfied, they dusted off their hands and nodded at one another.
“Can we go now, please?”
“Yeah,” Perry said, “let’s
A gnarled hand shot out from beneath
the leaves, latching onto Perry’s legs like a leech on a freshwater snake. He
screamed, eyes wide, and yanked his foot from its grip. He stomped down hard on
the ghastly appendage, shattering knuckle and bone into pulp. The leaves were
shucked off, and there she was, staring up at him with her one bulbous eye.
Even in the darkness, the horror of that melted-wax face convinced Perry that
going insane by all this was possible, very possible.
“What the hell is the matter with you!” Drew screamed.
“She touched me! She’s
Perry made a run for it, tripped over
a branch, stumbled, and found his footing again. He heard Drew behind him,
yelling for Perry to Wait up! He
didn’t say a word to his friend until they made it back to the highway.
Drew just stood there, staring at
“She touched me,” Perry
“I’m telling you. She grabbed my fucking leg, man.”
Drew just shook his head, hands on
hips. “Just take me home. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“If you don’t shut up
I will cream
your ass, Perry. I’m done. I did what you asked me to do. I want to go home. If
you don’t get in the car, I’ll take the keys and leave your ass here.”
Perry saw that Drew wasn’t kidding,
that he was dead serious. He nodded, trying his best to get a hold of himself.
Plus, getting as far away as possible from this pit didn’t sound like a bad
They got in the Mustang, pedal to
metal, and flew off into the lonesome November night.
(That night, Perry sucked on a bottle
of Jack until he passed out.
He dreamed of a black cauldron.
Bubbling with poison.)
He woke to the sound of his father
stomping up the stairwell. Soon, the old man was pounding on the door, but
Perry could give a shit: his leg felt like it was on fire. After a few seconds,
the door gave and Perry Petrilli, Sr. was on his son. He ripped off the bed
sheets, grabbed Perry by the collar, and told him to get the fuck up and get
down stairs. Perry screamed at the sudden jolt from his father, tears pouring
down his face.
“My leg,” he sobbed. “Please, dad.”
Perry Sr. glanced down at his son’s leg and, for a moment,
was at a loss for words. Perry’s leg shined like a freshly picked McIntosh
apple. It was plump and hairless and emanated heat like a radiator. Four, thick
purple lines pregnant with fluid pulsed above his ankle.
“Jesus, Per, you
get bit by a water moccasin or something?”
“I-I don’t know,” Perry said, his whole body quivering like
a leaf. “We got anymore of that codeine cough syrup? Ah, man! It hurts so bad.”
“Let me check,” his father said, rising from the bed. “We
may need to take a trip to the hospital. That don’t look good.”
There was about half a bottle left of the Promethazine, and
Perry threw it back. The euphoric effects of the medication immediately kicked
into hyper-drive, and Perry was able to rise from the bed with his father’s
“I know you're hurt,” Perry, Sr. said as he helped his son
slip on a pair of sweatpants, “but don’t think you’re getting off the hook for
what you did.”
“What are you talking about?” Perry gripped his father’s
arm as they started down the staircase.
“Pop’s car,” his father said, shaking his head. “God damn,
boy. You had the thing for less than a week. What is wrong with you?”
Perry said, “What about the car? I took it for a ride last
night with Drew. We were just joyriding. So what’s wrong with that?”
“You call this joyriding?” Perry’s father yanked the front
door open. Perry gasped as he lost his balance, and his swollen leg bashed into
the screen door. His brain couldn’t make sense of the utter destruction that
stared back at him. The Mustang, the goddamn pussy wagon that was given to him,
was completely destroyed. The entire front of the car was accordioned in long,
jagged pleats. The windshield was shattered, the tires flat, and a large black
puddle of motor oil pooled on the driveway below.
“Come on, boy,” his father said, pulling him by the arm.
“Your mother will kill me if you lose that leg and I didn’t do everything I
could to get you help.”
A moment later, Perry passed out, crumpling into his
He woke up to the beeps and sterile smells of a hospital
room. A curtain was drawn around the bed he lay on, and the television droned
with the vapid utterances of a Fox News pundit.
His father must have been here.
Multiple IVs dripped
fluid into his arms as other fluids were pumped out of him through a long
plastic tube. The purulent, foul drainage smelled like sewer rot.
The pain in his leg had eased to a dull, consistent throb.
Perry looked at the thin white sheet that covered the lower
half of his body. He lifted it tentatively and peered beneath to see his leg
wrapped in two layers of dressing: the first, soaked in iodine to suppress the
infection spreading through him; the outer layer a thick, dry gauze. A splotch
of blood blossomed through the bandage where the old woman had touched him. He
thought about the purple marks.
Perry pulled the curtain back. The room was empty. An
unoccupied hospital bed sat to his right, to his left was a door with a narrow
piece of glass in the center, crisscrossed with wiring. He saw the back of
someone’s head. They seemed to be standing in front of the door to block anyone
“Hey,” Perry yelled, and the man turned around to stare at
him. Perry could hear the mumbling of two or three unfamiliar voices outside
the room. “Hey,” Perry yelled again. He picked up a plastic cup full of apple
juice and lobbed it at the door. “Need some help here!”
The door opened. A nurse in blue scrubs walked in, followed
by a police officer and a man in a cheap suit. The nurse looked down at the
puddle of apple juice and shook her head.
“The call button’s more effective, Mr. Petrilli,” she said.
“And tidier,” the man in the suit said.
“I didn’t know about the call button. Something’s wrong
with my leg. Look,” he pointed at the stain growing on the dressing.
“Oh no,” the nurse said. “I have to wrap it with some fresh
gauze. It’s progressing.”
“What’s progressing?” Perry said.
She didn’t answer him. She looked at the two men behind
her. “You two need to go. He’s in no state to talk to you right now.”
“Where’s my father?” Perry asked. He was getting nervous.
He didn’t like cops as a rule, but he really didn’t like the guy in the cheap
suit. Who was he? Some sort of detective? And what the hell was going on with
his leg? He didn’t think nurses reacted in front of patients unless the shit
was really hitting the fan.
“Your father’s out in the hall, Perry,” the man in the suit
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Detective Stephens,” the man responded. “And I’m a
Mormon, so watch your fuckin’ mouth, please and thank you..”
Perry shook his head. This was a nightmare.
The nurse looked at the detective and the police officer,
her eyes wide and piercing. “You deaf? Get out.”
“Fine,” Stephens said, cold as ice. “We’ll be outside.”
They left as she began removing the tainted gauze from his
leg. The odor grew worse, sending waves of nauseating fumes into his brain like
icepicks. He watched in horror as a honey-colored goop fell off his ravished
leg in clumps. What remained of the skin was transparent, rice-paper thin. He
was staring at his tibia through a fragile membrane of flesh.
“We have to get you into surgery, way sooner than the
doctor thought,” she said, wrapping his leg with fresh bandages.
“I can’t really feel it,” he said.
“That’s because your nerves are being eaten away by the
bacteria you picked up.”
“Your leg is gangrenous, Perry. And the antibiotics don’t
seem to be doing a damn thing.”
She wrapped it with an extra layer of gauze, removed one
set of gloves, then another, and viciously washed her hands.
“Why are the police here?”
She stopped scrubbing for a moment. The nurse was pretty:
short, a little plump, with long black hair tied in a bun, blue eyes, and an
ass for days. If he wasn’t scared out of his mind, Perry probably would have
hit on her, her cheap engagement ring be damned.
The nurse finished washing up. She turned to face him.
“I’ll send your father in while I get the doctor. He’ll
tell you everything you need to know.”
“Okay,” Perry said. “Wait, what’s your name?”
“I’m Katy,” the nurse said.
“Thanks for helping me, Katy, and getting those creeps to
leave me alone.”
She smiled, revealing a set of small white teeth. “It was
After she left, he looked around for his cellphone, but it
was nowhere to be seen. Neither were any of his clothes. He was wondering about
Drew, wondering about the jagged pile of car parts his Mustang was turned into,
wondering about the old lady...
She wasn’t dead, he thought. She grabbed my leg. Her brain
might have been taking a stroll outside her head at the time, but she
definitely grabbed me.
A dizzying shot of anxiety pulsed through Perry’s body. His
palms dampened, his eyes trembled in their sockets, a sharp sensation prickled
down his neck and spine as each and every hair stood up on end.
Perry, Sr. walked into the room. He looked ancient: hair
unkempt, eyes sunken into his skull, nails bitten down to the quick…
He was wearing the same clothes he had worn when he took
Perry to the hospital. And, judging by the digital wall clock, that was a full
day ago. He smelled like he had been cutting into the Maker’s Mark, too.
“Hey, son,” his father said, sitting down on the swivel
chair by the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“It doesn’t hurt as much,” Perry said. “To be honest. I
can’t really feel my leg at all.”
“They’re saying it’s going to be amputated,” his father
said, matter-of-factly. He was pale and looked like he had seen a ghost. “No
other way to stop the infection.”
“Oh, no.” Perry trembled, raising his fists to his face,
shaking his head back and forth, back and forth, “no, no, no.”
“I don’t know what's gonna happen to you after that, son.
Your mother is torn to pieces. The doctor had to sedate her.”
“What do you mean you don’t know what’s gonna happen to me,
pop? After what? The operation? What’s that even mean?”
“I called the cops after what I found, Perry,” his father
said. A tear ran down his face and dripped onto the bed sheet. “I didn’t know
what else to do. We could’ve talked about it, I guess. But hindsight is
twenty-twenty. I never saw anything like that done to a person. How could you
do it, Per?”
“What are you talking about?” Perry said in a voice so low
it was almost a whisper. He was scared now, more than he had ever been in his
“You're really gonna make me say it, huh?”
“Say what? What the fuck are you talking about?”
Perry, Sr. slammed his fists down onto the bed. The abrupt
anger appeared so suddenly, Perry was thunderstruck.
“Drew! Drew Dennison! You murdered him, Perry. Flayed
him, they told me. You ripped his
heart out of his chest while it was still beating and used your teeth to
separate it from the poor kid. They found his heart, Perry. But where’s his
skin, huh? You gotta tell me where his skin is. No one has been able to find it
yet. Did you hide it somewhere? What were you planning on doing with your best
friend’s skin? His parents can’t give him a proper send off without his skin.”
He blabbered on and on, staring at one of the machines that
beeped behind Perry’s head. Perry wasn’t sure when his father stopped talking,
wasn’t even sure when the old man left. He was in a state of shock, he guessed,
because nothing really mattered to him at that moment.
Nothing much at all.
Leonetti’s horror stories have been published in Black Petals, Bewildering
Stories and October Hill Magazine. He resides in South Jersey where he teaches
college writing. He is married to the poet, Maria Provenzano.