By Dean Patrick ©
past a sign that advertised a local event in Utah called The Duncan Maze. He was
driving up to Duncan from the Odessa hospital still trying to wrap his head
around coming out of a coma and waking from it in the most awful state of fear
he’d never known. His brain felt like it was lobbing around in his skull,
sloppily hitting the sides of the walls of his head like a heavy, deflating
floaty toy. The dream of the demon woman lecturing to the demon children that
ended in the violent finale of the Caesarean man birth in that dreadful arena
was still so vivid and so alive inside his every thought, he believed the
entire ghastly scene was somehow attached to his brother’s death and all the
dread his brother went through.
cop spirit was
determined to find out everything possible. He knew the last time he’d seen his
brother, the two of them had gone on a late-night hike deep in the mountains
past Snow Crest City when the two of them found the woman who had been
tormenting Steve all during the previous year. Marion could vaguely remember he
and his brother tunneling through the woman’s freakish place where they’d seen
her and her freakish partner doing awful deeds. But that is all he could
remember when he awakened in the hospital four months later and was then
driving up to Duncan where his brother had lived.
stereo two octaves too high as the live version of Kiss’ “She” was the cut. Of
all things, Kiss. How were their songs the backdrop of that fucked-up dream
and now here they are on the radio. Good song at least.
a bludgeoned carcass on the side of the road that was fresh enough in its gore
that he thanked God someone else hit it. Must have been hit by someone going
a hundred miles an hour to do that kind of damage. Christ.
Duncan and the sign itself, he noticed something odd on it – or odd about
it – odd enough that it caused him to go back and take a closer look. When he
did, he still drove too fast, missing the chance to stop, then angrily turned
around yet again by driving up the road where he thought there was plenty of
space to get the look he needed, only to miss it one more time because some
reckless driver almost hit him. His anger now intense, he drove a mile or so
down to the local convenience store. Local Exon to be exact. Full-service diner
was dusk then.
Beginning of May. Still cold.
station, after Marion had given up trying to decipher what was on the Duncan
Maze event sign that caused him such confusion - and for whatever reason, he
immediately decided he needed a smoke. A vape at the very least. The only time
in his entire life when he’d ever smoked was some twenty years ago while a
college freshman when he decided it sounded like a fine thing to do while he
was getting drunk, also his first and only. Marion had always played the
strait-laced kid who refused to go down the family path of addiction that had
ruined so many in his extended family. Including his own brother, Steven.
wonder how many
countless times Steve had been in this place. And Christ, here I am.
station had such
a feeling of abandonment, he also disturbingly wondered if anyone would ever
come to the place again for snacks or gas. It was far too dimly-lit in Marion’s
opinion. Far darker on the inside than any convenience store he’d ever visited,
come to think of it. In the middle of the cash register area stood a rather
fragile-looking man or woman (he had no clue which) on a small step ladder, restocking
the cigarette case. Marion watched the night shift attendant long enough to
where he eventually cleared his throat in irritation to capture simple
stopped moving instantly and dropped all his packs of cigarettes on the floor
with as much irritated defiance as was Marion’s attention seeking.
around rather quickly…too quickly…stood perhaps the most ragged and torched-looking
woman he’d ever seen over the years he’d spent scouring the underbelly shit holes
of Houston. The woman stood no more than five feet. Her skin rampant in deeply-aged
crevices that looked more like gashes, caked in filth, so raw and weathered it
looked like an ancient cowhide suit had been stretched and sewn onto her
rickety bones. Something far worse than years of meth or crack had taken a
fierce scourging to her. Her nose was massive enough that it matched the entire
size of her face and head; eyes sunk deeply in sockets that looked like they’d
been bored through with a rusted one-inch drill bit. Her hair a ratted mess of
so strikingly hideous Marion found himself struggling to not give away his
instant repugnance. With as many times throughout his career he had faced the
most awful creatures of the streets, he found it alarming that he felt such unease.
said, careful not to say more until he could hear the hag’s voice.
his shoulder back toward the rental truck, making sure it was still parked
right up front. Truth was he knew the sun had just been going down when
he wanted to catch a better look at the maze event sign. But when he saw it was
so dark out, he wondered if the ragged woman had been at it long enough she’d lost
track of time.
late, that’s for sure,” Marion said as he stared back at the woman’s black
eyeballs, so black he couldn’t see any movement that all sets of eyes make
during any conversation. Just two large shiny black globular slugs stuck in
place. He knew he was staring into something he’d never seen before during any
right outta sight, hmm, hmm. Just dipped away into that awful pit of nighty
night nighttime.” When she spoke, Marion wondered if she’d ever had a look that
resembled anything normal or decent, “whatever the fuck that means,” he
waz dat?” she
spewed out in a broken mouth that displayed in full horror glory rotted teeth
that were spaced apart at least an inch protruding from both gum lines that had
turned to charcoal rubber. Marion had seen more than enough crack whores and
vagrants over the years, but the hag’s mouth over matched any of them. Her
voice was clogged in phlegm, as ragged as her ancient skin. Marion wondered if
her lungs had drowned in the shit long ago.
nothing. Don’t worry about it. Just here for some gas and such –”
And your truck’s up front! In here is other nifty knacks and saddle cracks and
gimmicky kicks and such!” She spewed out again, in glee, walking up to one of
the two cash registers. She walked with a such a painful limp Marion thought
she’d topple over. Her service station attire was almost as tattered as the
rest of her. Sickly blue rayon shirt with the top two or three buttons missing that
exposed a veiny, shocking white chest. Frayed rayon black slacks. Black walking
shoes that had walked across a million service station floors. Marion could see
no name tag but did notice the background music so familiar is most places, suddenly
change to a cryptic and acidy folk sound he’d never heard.
did you say to
me?” Marion said as he took a step closer. No matter his caution, he still knew
stepping up would show immediate authority, and it was indeed authority he was
suddenly needing to display, not just feelings. “I said nifty knacks –”
Marion interrupted, certain the hag had coughed up a few inches of the shit
that was buried inside her when she spoke.
woman closed her
mouth and frowned such an upside-down crevice her beak of a chin crimped upward
as if some opening in her face could swallow it up. “No matter. You’re the Coming
One. Coming on in with all your questions and concerns and all your whatnots.
Thinking about all those landscape dreams of horror? You sure got the deeper
looks of one came out of dreamscapes Eh? Ehhhh?! Here to talk about all the
gremlins and ghouls and – ”
don’t know what
you’re talking about, and that’s not what I asked?” Marion shot back, not
giving her a second chance to keep ranting, looking up and down the hag as well
as scoping all the surroundings. He picked out the corners of the store, the
restroom sign, the back area of the station where the diner area was closed,
the empty chairs, the sunglass rack, the stained foam ceilings. All of it in
his camera-eye peripheral. His decades-long and wisdom-deep cop senses
immediately kicked in, homing in his laser sharp caution as well as
discernment. Still, how sweet Jesus does she know of any of this?
response. The hag
just stood there, halfcocked as if she’d never had an inkling of understanding
of anything, much less the frightening prophecy she just vented. Just a ruined
smile that formed up and around her entire torn face, so precise in its etching
it had to have caused even more torment the ancient woman had somehow escaped
during all the years that had come down upon her. A ruined smile to mask the
life that was hanging around her decrepit neck like a final helpless thread.
is what you said. That’s what I was referring to.”
Eh, eh, eh. You
a cop, ain’t ye?”
got the look
for sure,” her head then nodding up and down far too rapidly.
you’ll snap something. You hadn’t even seen me while you were stocking the
have to see.
Don’t ever have to see. It’s my good sense that’s always so keen. So keen from
the ages and ages of –”
matter. Yes, I am. Never mind that you seem out of your mind. Look…listen
for sec, can you? I was wondering about that sign is the actual reason I came
in. Sign about the Duncan Maze. Thought for sure anyone working here would know
about it. Local event, is it?”
whisper. Cain’t hear much, Christ knows. And he does. Rest assured.”
realized he was whispering. Was I? Why?
wanted to ask you about the maze sign and the event.”
hag tilted her
body to the other side, halfcocked again, sporting the same sick frown. “Hmmmm.
Clearly new to these parts. But maybe not so new, eh? Ha! Hmmmmm…what about
that sign got you so peaked? What it said? Or how it was said? It’s design?
What!?” she continued; her tongue then slithered out from the corner of her
crevice in a bleak attempt to lick the dry corners of her decayed mouth. Her
tongue itself looked more like the butt of a whip that had been cut off and
sewn inside her throat. “What is it you need to know so desperately?”
lady. Just curious is all.”
everything I just said, that’s a certainty. Curiosity killed the cat. Slit its
throat, it did –”
see where this is
going, Miss…I’m sure your name tag fell off your shirt during all your
That’s me. Bridget Magnus. Hmmmm. ” she said, rubbing her knuckled hands across
a scarred neck so ripped in overgrown tissue Marion wondered what she could
have possibly gone through that had destroyed her body, yet kept it alive, if
just barely. Looks like you’ve been hanged a hundred times over, he
thought with a sick grin.
for some reason…
comical when shit got real was one of Marion’s mottos that he’d lived by
throughout the years of facing murderers, rapists, butchers of any kind. And
for as frail and decrepit as Bridget appeared, every honed sixth sense Marion
possessed thought she fit such a bill to a T.
run off so
quickly Scare Dee Cat. No, no, no. You came all this way to seek what you seek,
may as well seek it here and ye shall find with me as I tell you a tale. You’ve
got no place else to run run away to, Copper, eh? Time for a tale or two?”
took a deep
breath and let it out with complete control and patience. Of course, he had no
place to go, no place to be. No place he belonged, in fact. He’d awakened from
a coma in the Odessa hospital some four months after his brother’s death. Had
roamed that empty hospital in horror of that emptiness. Had been given the title
to his brother’s truck and the deed to his property soon after. All he wanted was
answers to his brother’s death. All he was receiving was an opening of
perpetual insanity where Queen Hag Magnus wanted to talk tales of deeper
I can stick
around for a chat. Why not?”
me, oh mercy
My! That’s the spirit, Copper. Let me grab a few stools.” Which she did. She
also came back with a half-empty bottle of whiskey that she began pulling on the
moment she sat down; her bony legs crossed and so razor thin that it looked
like her frayed black trousers were kinked down the center of her rangy frame.
said in irritation. “And stop calling me Copper. You’ve got a name, so do I.”
Hmmm. Give it
up, then,” Bridget said while dry-licking her upper lip.
Hmmm. Tad familiar to be fair.”
probably been here long enough to have heard of my brother, Steven Paul.”
nothing, but her sickly coughed giggles said everything.
do you want to
talk about, Bridget? I’m committed to listen. You knew my brother, fine. Or of
him. Whatever it was. That’s why I’m here.”
why any of
us are here, Mister Paul. Here just looking for others we’ve loved. Others
we’ve lost. And doesn’t it stink up ripe like in small towns, eh? But it’s also
the small towns where all the answers lie if ye just listen deep enough. And
long enough, too. That sign had your attention straight up with your hairs
nailing into your backside, eh? So let me tell you little bits and pieces about
it. How its operated mostly. But more than that, who operates it. The
whore of Babylon who ripped through your comatose!”
Marion knew had whispered that time.
ye, eh ye, ye
old gadget of sloppy crow bait! Sure, it’s true!” cackled the hag with such
ferocity that Marion thought she’d just been surged into an adrenaline plug any
athlete would envy. She took another deep pull on the bottle, easily draining
it an inch lower. “Before I get to the maze, let me go back a few seasons long
long ago it was. Long enough to where the winds I heard whisper that night seem
like a long slow whine from Father Time. He fixes all things, you know.”
was deep in the
mountains. Pitch deep. Miles past Snow Crest City, ‘bout seventy miles north of
here, when I was up and around with one of me partners. Saintly man, mind you.
Hard for you to believe, ain’t it?”
at her with his cop eyes laser-focused on her every breath.
“His name were Dan, and we had one of
those rare moments of getaway time, for time was no longer Dan’s friend.
Friends of his gave us keys to a cabin deep in those mountains. Little time for
privacy and silence. Telling stories. Cooking dogs by a fire. Cold as my goddamn
nipples it was out but ain’t stop us from enjoying the vast beauty of nowhere
“Rumor had it back then some giant
wolf had been killing not only the locals’ animals, but even some locals
themselves. Look it up, Peace Officer. Looky, looky, you’ll see. But no
goddamned wolf was to take away our last moments in time.
“One night…think it was just the night
before our last…hmmmm…” Bridget then looked up to the ceiling as if caught in a
sudden trance, her globby black eyeballs wobbly in the deep bony sockets.
listening, Bridget,” Marion said to get her back on track.
we were out on the patio deck of the cabin. Deck faced directly into the eastside
of the mountains. Could see up to the tips of the mountain tops as if they’d be
tickling the bottoms of the stars themselves. The quiet? The quiet? It was
that of death. Could hear the soul of death leave the body by Cain. Hmmmm.”
Marion cleared his throat loud enough
for Bridget to pause. She remained in the trance-like focus, so focused that a
bit of actual life seemed to breathe back into her skeleton body.
“What do you mean ‘by Cain,’” he
as he leaned forward a foot or so.
“Eh! Don’t ye stop my tale you pee-pee
boy! You seek answers, don’t ever stop the flow! Seek and find, seek and find!”
She was right. Whatever she said and
whatever she meant made no difference at that moment.
“I won’t interrupt again,” he said in
“Be best you don’t,” she hissed
back with such a force that Marion felt the kind of dizziness that sometimes
came over him during severe distress. He nodded as she continued.
“We’d all heard of that wolf.
all known the
stories of its size and ravenous hunger.
innocence. And his ignorance. I’d be the protector over him but he didn’t know
no better. Still…he had his rifle on him and that made him feel safe. That plus
the safety of the deck. We turned to go back inside for the night when a wolfs’
howl – the wolf this I was certain – tore across the silence as if space
itself had been ripped asunder. In the haunted, blue-colored filters of the
mountain realm, I could see all color drain from Dan’s entire being. I held his
hand firmly as we both looked out toward the howl. It was so close the wolf had
to be within the perimeter of the cabin’s backyard area…”
in trance but instead of saying anything or clearing his throat to keep her on
track, Marion felt himself in similar trance wondering why the hag’s voice and
speech sounded so eloquent when telling the tale.
“My eyes were far sharper than Dan’s
so I scoured all around not dare asking Dan to find any binoculars that could
have been inside. Then I saw it. A ghastly phantom shadow that looked as much a
giant human as it did wolf. Maybe it were both…I looked at Dan to
silence him further when I saw his own eyes had fastened onto something to the
right of the wolf’s shapeshifting shadow. Dan’s eyes were more horror struck
than had been triggered by the wolf. I followed his eyes.
“There was another cabin to the southeast
of where we stayed. Never thought much of it as we hadn’t seen so much of a
candle lit at the place during our entire stay. As I looked where Dan was
focused, I stopped in terror as I saw what would surely stop Dan’s heart. Maybe
my own. Walking from the cabin toward the giant wolf’s shadow was a woman. Fearless
in her approach. A shapely, striking woman dressed in such stark black that she
seemed to glow in the blue night. Her walk then turned to panther-like strides
as she pounced into the wolf’s immediate space. There were trees lined up and
down the area, and with an effortless leap, she jumped onto the tree closest to
the wolf, anchored herself with both her legs and left arm, then outstretched
her right arm and screamed at the beast in such a ferocious ear-splitting pitch
I thought my own ear drums would burst. The scream sounded…alien. If an alien
had sound that is. Hmmmm. And her eyes. I could see them. Two frightening
pinpoints of lavender that could be seen from the howling moon. This woman had
attacked the wolf in such a way that I believed I was watching something
otherworldly. Something far more powerful than the wolf itself had ever known,
for when the moment her scream blasted forth, it jolted back in its own high
pitch whimper and ran off into the night in as much terror that had overtaken
my Dan and me.
“Never seen such a sight. In all my
ages on earth – a lot. It’s a lot. Never seen such a sight.”
Bridget leaned back on her stool as if
to crack all the bones in her spine as she took another long, deep pull on the
bottle, swallowing just as long and deep. The silence she spoke about in the
mountains began to lengthen in the service station as they both stared at each
“That’s quite a story,” Marion said.
He was as genuine as he was creeped out.
“Eh! It is that! Eh! Now what’s it to
do with that maze you want to know?”
“Yeah. I don’t see the relation yet.”
“Course you do! All those dreams you
had in the comatose! Those endless days of dreams where she came on in through
the other side to scream at ye! By the likes of Cain and God in hell, what do
you think I was preaching at ye! Did you not hear a lick from my ticker?! Ye
head into that maze…she’ll be there. She’ll be there.” It was Magnus who was
With that, Bridget bumped herself from
the stool so effortlessly she had become an entirely different creature. For
she looked like a creature. Hobbled and rickety and in shambles, yes, but also
with a newfound strength that alarmed Marion as he, too, stood off his stool to
face her. Boxing style as he’d trained so many years in the sport, and all the
street brawls any Houston cop must face. Yet he kept his hands down as to keep
things as neutral as possible.
Bridget circled Marion even more
hunched over, with her hands out as if to claw him in defense, but rather than
striking she just circled around slowly, Marion following her lead, but all the
while focused on her every move. In front of the cash registers, they had just
enough room for a close-range sparring match.
“In all my days on this godforsaken
earth I have lived never before have I seen such wickedness, such ghastly power
and furious anger, and in walks you, Mister Paul The Cop, in walks the likes of
you just out of your comatose bleach seeking the answers to all your loss! Doubting
me! Yes! I knew your brother. I knew his demise. He let her in and she took it
all as she has done so endlessly before. But you! You! You saw her in your
dreams of the horror children! Didn’t you?! Didn’t you!?” Bridget hissed in
Marion couldn’t grasp how she knew
what she knew. But that didn’t matter. He’d heard a hundred thousand tales in
his career that never made much sense but always contained some piece of truth
in them if he dug in deep enough. His first rule had always been to ask the
“Why don’t we stop this face off,
Bridget, if that’s what this is. Sound like a plan?”
“I’ve already given you the plan smack
in the middle of your own tickler!”
“Okay then why don’t we settle down
anyway. Because I know you don’t want me coming in on you, and I sure as Christ
don’t want you any closer.”
“Ha! Gotta keep that comic flare up,
eh?” and with that she stopped moving as did Marion following her lead.
“How is it you know about me so much?
My dreams? Coming out of a coma?”
“You ain’t been listening, pee-pee
boy. No matter you listened or not. Tale I told is truth. Now…all of a sudden
I’m feeling too weary to carry on. At least for now. Make no never mind I’ll be
back at it soon enough! But you better scurry on out now ‘fore you end up as
your brother. Scurry on now, Mary -Mary. Scurry on before things in here get a
lot more than you’d ever want to handle. You’ll need to have a deep trust in
Marion had no reason not to believe her
story. It chilled him more than he let on, of course. Especially the lavender
eyes Bridget saw on the demon woman who screamed down the big bad wolf. True or
not, all of it began to resonate within him strong enough that he had grown
just as exhausted as the hag said she was. He may have looked it, too, for all
He walked back a few steps from
Bridget, turned to the station’s glass doors and left. Just as he was about to
shut the driver’s door, he looked up to see the hag standing right in front of
the truck. She was a shocking sight no matter how much he thought he’d gotten
used to her.
“You’ll see me again, Mister Comatose!
Best you know that! And sooner than you expect!”
With that, Marion slammed the driver’s
door shut and off he drove, back toward Odessa as the sound of the Odessa Hotel
sounded a lot better than fumbling his way around his brother’s place in
Duncan. Deed or no deed.
He fired up the radio again to the
same rock station. Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” filled the truck’s cabin
with exactly the recipe he needed. The darkness was so dense he kept the brights
on constant, didn’t matter if he pissed off drivers in the other lanes. No
one’s on the road anyway so who gives a good goddamn, I’ve gotta see.
In fact, Marion was far righter than
he realized when thinking to himself as he saw no signs of life in his own
lanes behind him or ahead leading the way, none on the opposite lanes heading
back to Duncan. Bruce Dickinson’s full-throttle operatic tenor wailed on into
the deep night drive as Marion wished the brights of the truck had another 50
lumens so he could see more than what was immediately in front of him.
Just as the song about The Beast
ended, Marion suddenly could make out something about 40 yards ahead on the
opposite lane twitching about on the side of the freeway. More than twitching. He
knew enough about roadkill that whatever it was, wasn’t small game. Within the
seconds it took for the truck’s headlamps to shine on enough for Marion to see
what it was, Marion hit the brakes and turned into the median strip to position
the truck and headlamps as to get the best view possible of what Marion had to
He knew how horrible it truly was
before the horror had a chance to creep in enough to cause Marion’s keen
reactions to slow. Remarkably, yet also a perfect marriage to what he was
seeing, the freeway lanes remained completely abandoned. Whatever gruesome
savagery he was about to face, the frightful night had left him deeply alone.
driver’s door ever so slowly and carefully. Knew he had no gun, nor a knife.
Only his fabulous hands to take on whatever could come his way.
Across the way to the opposite lanes’
shoulder, fully lit up from the truck’s headlamps was a hideous creature of
obscene movement devouring the shredded gore of the dead carcass Marion had
seen on his way into town just hours ago. The creature’s back was distorted and
twisted in such a perversion of normalcy, Marion wondered if the thing was
somehow insect in nature. Its legs were much thinner and smaller – with just as
much distortion as its back – than its front legs, which where were not legs at
all, but jagged and metallic arms. Arms that tore into the dead carcass,
shoveling the chunks of ruined decay into the creature’s face. A face Marion
couldn’t quite make out.
Then he could.
Fuck is that…What the fuck is that?
Marion’s thoughts were so loud he believed
he spoke, but instantly knew he was too stunned to speak just yet.
never did speak.
creature’s mangled features that terrified Marion to his marrow. It was what
the creature was wearing.
Shredded as badly as the carcass’s
remains, but still hanging enough around its neck, shoulders, and waist to be
perfectly recognized (at least to Marion) was the Exon service station attire
Bridget had worn. Same sickly blue top; same rayon black pants; same cheap faux
black leather walking shoes. Only the shoes had been torn through by the
creature’s massive feet that looked more like the talons of an ostrich.
In a split moment the creature stopped
eating the carcass gore, stood up on its wiry legs, turned directly to Marion
and the truck lights. The moment then turned much slower in motion, as the
creature’s limbs and feet and head sunk in as if something was being poured on
its entire frame causing it to melt into Bridget Magnus herself.
“Ha! What of it now, Copper?! You
think you’ve seen it all but now I see you’ve not seen anything at all! Who are
you to pass judgement! For I’ve been judged the centuries long since Salem ye
God fearing wretch! Hung until the maggots ate into my eye sockets, skull-
fucking me long before you were in ye’s pappy’s sack! Never forget this night,
Mary-Mary Paul Paul. Never forget what ye seek and what I’ve shown during our
show and tell. I do only her bidding. Only her bidding! The
lavender-eyed demoness!” Bridget screamed in a voice so ragged and graveled only
a witch’s throat could bear the burden. “The lavender-eyed demoness! And ye
shall fall to her feet, too!”
Marion had had enough for one night.
Long known for his patience of Job, Marion’s final patient knob was turned as
far right as it would go. He jumped back into the truck and raced down the
freeway with both the truck’s front windows down hoping the fresh air could
snap him back to sanity. Back to the canyons that led back to Odessa as he
swore to his own God he could hear Bridget Magnus cackle like a monster hyena
long after she had disappeared from his rearview mirror.
Dean Patrick was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Educated at
The University of Houston with Masters’ Degrees in Professional Writing and
Literature, he writes professionally for a major software technology in the
Salt Lake City area. This story will be included in his sequel to his first
novel, The Lady Mephistopheles. He lives in Morgan, Utah, on a small
ranch with his wife, Lisa. To this day, he considers his sobriety his greatest