Candace Meredith earned her Bachelor of Science degree in English Creative Writing from Frostburg State University in the spring of 2008. Her works of poetry, photography and fiction have appeared in literary journals Bittersweet, The Backbone Mountain Review, The Broadkill Review, In God’s Hands/ Writers of Grace, A Flash of Dark, Greensilk Journal, Saltfront, Mojave River Press and Review, Scryptic Magazine, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Sirens Call Magazine, The Great Void, Foreign Literary Magazine, Lion and Lilac Magazine, Snow Leopard Publishing, BAM Writes and various others. Candace currently resides in Virginia with her two sons and her daughter, her fiancé and their three dogs and six cats. She has earned her Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications (IMC) from West Virginia University.
Creatures & Crimes
In the night they emerge unfed and deadly. They are the gargoyles of Saint Maverick Square; the city that houses the phantoms and the creatures with eyes of liquid gold. The eyes are used for penetrating the soul of their victims. The phantoms have eyes of crimson beneath the cloak of black, imminent darkness. The phantoms and the creatures live among one another; whether or not they get along is debatable. They just co-habit within the city. The phantoms feed on souls while the creatures merely stun their victims so they could feed upon them. One could say that phantoms could easily take the soul once the creatures have consumed the body but it doesn’t work out that way. Phantoms take their soul and leave them alive; they become something like the walking dead. The creatures devour them and the soul moves into the ever after. They don’t care to help one another. The phantoms live in the shadows and the creatures live in the mansion of Mongoose Street; that is the home of their creatures. Sir Edward Madison Mongoose birthed the deadliest of things. He’s a scientist and he found himself alone there; some speculate he is Dracula of our modern era. They say he consumes blood from a flask and that he stopped being human once they died; his family perished together days apart from a deadly disease. Only he was immune and then went mad. Edward was skilled in making tonics and he tried to heal them. They perished within his home and are buried in the small cemetery beside the mansion.
My name is Samantha Brown, former ghost hunter, and now I perform research on the deaths surrounding Saint Maverick. I am familiar with the mansion. Many years ago I used to sweep the cobblestone interior floors and tend the laundry. Sir Edward Mongoose hired me to entertain him with my stories of ghosts within the city. Some say I helped him when he went mad. Ghosts are within the mansion; his creatures are of something more harrowing; the phantoms are his victims some say. They hunt at night in a city that houses the walking dead. The people here are often alone in the darkest city to exist. The phantoms steal the only energy the walking dead possess; the soul that feed the phantoms and gives them their memories. The phantoms are not bodies; they are dark and sinister undead. They used to be alive. I studied them too. Sir Edward was weary of them. It made sense then I suppose for the Dracula Prince to create something deadly; something that would consume the aimless ones. The city is abundant. The phantoms and the creatures do not get along. The creatures consume the souls of the bodies they use; the phantoms leave alive what the creatures don’t wish to consume: what is a body without a soul?
I’m sure Sir Edward could not foresee the future; he never had any magical powers. To create his creatures of the night he used dogs and a tonic – some kind of concoction he produced for the Chem table. The creatures are like hyenas with sparse patches of skin where the fur would have been. He calls them by name. I have never seen what the Sir had in his flask; they say he took their blood first and then added the chemicals. They say the creatures were created when they went sick simply to protect his house. No one dared to enter – by that he did right by them. When they perished in a home he could not protect he took their blood and left them thirsty and hungry. They go out at night to stalk the dark, empty allies where someone emerges from the underground – harbingers and hobos and the like. The police don’t seem to mind, “they clean away the smut,” one of them said to the other. They speculate Sir Edward feels the retribution of his family in their deaths.
One can feel the phantoms when they enter them; like a deep cavernous underground; the phantoms feel, cold, hollow and empty. That feeling, a victim once said, stays with you. “I don’t want to die without a soul” he cried one night before the frost took his body and he died of hypothermia. There is death and carnage in this city so I created an elite team of ghost hunters; we are called The League Against the Harrowing Ones. The title is simple enough and we gained the title once during an intervention; the creature snarled, covered in saliva and mucous membranes; some from a former victim. The creatures are sensitive to light and dissonant sounds so they are not indestructible. The creature, pinned against the wall, breathing down the neck of a homeless, defeated man, howled in the wake of a mag light while the sounds like nails to a chalkboard pierced through his ears, and he ran quickly to fall dead before he could take another. We learned a lot that night; when my team turned to the alley a phantom got to my newest member; Michael O’Neil felt the breath of it down the back of his neck; when he turned to face it the phantoms wailed in the sound of glass crystal and Michael fell to the ground. The process only took seconds. Michael stayed alive with the empty feeling of cold penetrating his body; to this day he cannot get warm; he stays by the fire.
My team has learned that to destroy the phantom is to get the souls back to the body – for those who have not died. “How do you kill a phantom?” A reporter once asked of us and Rodney, my head mate, simply said how do you kill what you cannot see?” That had him stumped. Rodney laughed, “now you know our problem” he said but he was learning how to summons the light. “You have to defeat the darkness with the light,” Rodney said to me. “It works on the dogs of hell” Keith chimed in: our next in command. Rodney and Keith are the audio and video savvy and being technologically advanced is a challenge to me. I am sensitive to them; I feel within me their presence. Rodney says I’m intuitive and they are both the logically sophisticated in the group. Rodney and I started dating when I took up the job at the mansion; he said then that the mansion must be haunted. I agreed. But I never got to study them after their death and then Edward dismissed me. I never got sick. Some say he poisoned them. I know that he did not. I knew him when he was normal. Healthy. Now Sir Edward drinks the blood of hounds before he changes them into the shapeshifters – the feens of eating human bodies. “Michael was damn lucky it wasn’t the creatures…” Rodney said to me. “I know.” I agreed. Now we have the chance to change him back to the human he was – if we can figure out exactly how the phantom wears its weaknesses.
“The team of twats,” a belligerent teen says on the streets.
“What?” Rodney hollers back.
The teen keeps walking. “You believe that shit…” he says, becoming evermore distant in the tunnel. We know that he’ll be the victim next so we follow him. Me, Rodney and Keith are all this city has to survive against them. To many the legend is a hoax and to others they are the nightmare of hell upon them. The creatures are easiest to be seen while the phantoms are easiest to detect from afar; I get a visual of them in the mind’s eye. A street light shadow is covert to most but not to a sensitive. Then we hear it – the snarling of the hounds of hell. There is no presence of a phantom. Their liquid gold eyes are their gift to the night; they navigate with the extreme sensitivity; we flash a light to warn them and they cower to a low crawl to be below the light and when one of them lunges we sound the alarm like nails to a chalkboard – they shriek in terror and fall onto their backs, legs flailing.
“What the fuck?” The teen squeals and begins running when out of the dark another hound of hell pounces onto his back.
“This one is unafraid,” Keith says and the recorder plays louder.
The hound has gotten his ear. The lobe is torn off. “You crazy bunch of pussies!” He screams out in terror. The beast is wicked fast and his razor sharp teeth pierce into his back; the flesh is exposed through clothes. Keith rushes in with the mag light – forcing the light to his face but the good color of his eyes turn black and the light has no power. Rodney increases the frequency of the recorder to a blaring dissonance hun and the vibration startles the beast; the others flee. The teen scrambles to his feet in pain. The flesh on his back is raw and bleeding.
“What’s your name?” Rodney tries to keep him calm.
“It’s Eric,” he spits as his mouth fills with mucous.
“That’s not normal,” Keith says and leans in toward him.
“What?” Eric is annoyed.
“We need to get him to the hospital.” Rodney says
I am in agreement with both.
“Sam,” Rodney says while applying a cloth to his back.
But in that moment something moves in the sky and Rodney aside Keith are looking into the eyes of Sir Edward Mongoose – he lands there gracefully on two feet. He raises his arms and his cape spreads outward and the wind takes him as the beast leaps into his arms and his eyes are still black; the Lord of Phantoms join us… he is pale and his face looks cold, pointed and stern. He recognizes me – I cared for them the way he did. He departs with his hound embraced in his arms. He flies effortlessly as a ghostly vision.
“His beasts are his family now.” Keith says and he takes Eric under the arm.
“What the fuck was that thing?” Eric is trying to catch his breath.
“Which one?” I say and take photos to make notes later.
Eric is taken to the hospital.
Keith asks about the mucous.
“”Was he bitten by a snake?” The nurse asks.
“No.” Is Keith’s simple response.
“Well the venom is killing him from inside.” The nurse shakes her head, “never seen anything like this.” She draws the curtain and Rodney and Keith step inside and I wait for the doctor. The night is a long wait and we fall asleep; the venom has turned him to a zombie. He is now in the similar situation as Michael and we take him home because we know the beasts will want to finish him.
The next day I arise with the smell of death all round me. The beasts have an odor and my clothes, strewn on the floor, have the stench of them lingering within the fabric. It’s a reminder they exist because to be normal is to forget them completely. Rodney awakes in our bed; he feels bad for the teen; a constant state of zombie-ness is the pits. He knows because Michael isn’t the same anymore. They miss him; he is the fuel that drives them to slay the beasts.
“Edward’s creatures and those Phantoms turn humans into zombies…” Rodney lingers on the thought. He moves to the bathroom to shower. I take a long look outside into the daylight. Day time is rest for the beings that threaten this city. Some may ask if anyone notices when humans become zombies. Michael’s fiancé and mother noticed. They know he is not the same but they also do not believe in the other beings of the night. I’m not sure anything would change if they believed – in fact, it does not matter at all. Today we grab our gear. Rodney and Keith want to hunt them; they have spotlights and recorders of screeching nails on chalkboards. The creatures cannot stand the sounds. I’m indifferent. Edward was not the monster they see in him. He loved them. I loved them. Little Joey, Miss Clara and Steven were the children and Mrs. Cassandra was their mother. His beloved wife. They were kind. Rodney argues they were self absorbed and didn’t care for others but I could see it in his soul; he cared. Mrs. Cassandra was a painter. She was exquisite and elegant. They were the epitome of perfection. It seems the beasts were created to clean up this city; perhaps, in his mind, if you clean up the street trash then the diseases can be filtered. There’s passion in that but I won’t argue with the two of them. I began this cause to contain them. Keith comes down the stairs from the guest room with an athame blade – a blade used by witches in ceremonial craft. He says a witch blessed his blade to have power against them. Rodney just shrugs. He’s not into magic.
“Magic created them in the first place.” He has said of the creatures.
“They need to walk this city without being afraid.” Keith says of them and he’s right. Why should anyone be devoured by massive dogs?
They pack their gear and later they plan to be staged at the entrance of the mansion; when the gates open they want to go in. As the day wanes they become more anxious. They stalk the nearest alley; they are covered by street fog. The night is eerie. Keith hears the first snarl of the pack … their grumble for food is unnerving. Rodney has staged a spot light. He waits for the pack to move toward it – ideally in a solid group. But they separate as they move out from the gate; they’re an assembly line with space between them as if they are on to them. And they might be. Rodney turns the spotlight on anyway with the intention to blind them; they do not startle; their liquid gold eyes are vacant. They have eye sockets instead of eyes; they are pitch black.
”He has trained them to hunt by instinct not sight.” Keith whispers.
The beasts lunge and Rodney blares the jarring sounds that pierce anything not hearing impaired; the beasts cower; they snarl aloud with mucous pouring from their open mouths.
“Remember to stay away from the saliva!” Keith is shaken but he moves closer toward them. His goal is to pierce one and Rodney has his back; together they close in. The hounds are snarking – the saliva reaches Rod’s wrist and he quickly increases the reverberations.
“Pierce the damn thing,” Rodney is impatient and Keith moves between them; the wild hound stands on hind legs and when he lands on front legs his chest cavity crashes into them; Keith is pinned beneath the beasts that bleed. The athame blade pierces its chest and the beast howls.
“He’s coming!” Keith says with the blood of a hound upon him. Rodney bends over, pulling at the hide of the beast and moves him away from Keith’s heavy body. Then the Lord of Beasts appears in a full cloak; he widens his mouth and his teeth are now like knives. Rodney blinds him momentarily with the spotlight but Sir Edward is fast. He draws his cape and his feet are above the ground; for the first time a hound is dead. Edward lashes at them with bony fingers as if to grab ahold of them – as if to strangle them. Edward pulls the blade from his faithful servant’s chest and Rodney tries the recording but Edward is unfazed. The hounds cower but they stand behind him. Edward leans in yielding the blade; I shriek as Rodney is sliced down the arm with the blade and Keith removes a crowbar from the bag of gear and swings it hard into the Lord of Beasts’s chest. Edward loses his breath and as he clambers to the ground the leader of the pack lunges and grasps Keith by the arm. I move in swiftly to turn the sound louder but the beasts move too fast and three of them are on top of Keith. Rodney takes me by the arm and ushers me into the alley. I am in the dark when the beasts, in packs of dozens, veer their heads left to right to avoid the noise of hell.
Keith is screaming. Edward does not let him go. The knife is in his chest; Rodney takes the crowbar from the ground and swings upon him; he drops the blade and Rodney takes ahold of Keith and they move toward the next alley. Rod creates a distraction from them. Edward is Lord to the hounds of the night; he raises the blade to the spotlight and with a shatter the glass litters the street. All is dark. Quiet. I can hear them breathing. Edward motions and the hounds disperse into into the dark, taking the alleys, toward their feast and we are momentarily suspended without knowing how to defeat them. Defeated we scramble from the alley; Keith is bloody then Edward is at my feet. He stands before me with eyes of terror; they are crimson and his pale face is a reflection of their sickness; I have an image of how paid they got. How disease slowly drains the victim before death settles in. Edward breathes down my neck. Down my back. He runs his fingers through my hair. I can feel what he feels; there is no doubt he wants a woman but I feel with intensity he wants to devour me first. I oblige.
“Hello Edward.” I say and he brings me to my feet. His mouth is stained in blood. There is the stench of death upon him; the beasts are rancid.
“Samantha,” he says and I hold my breath to keep from gagging.
“Yes.” I whisper and his cape becomes my cloak; he shields me from them. I can hear the beasts howling in the wind tonight. I wonder how far Rodney and Keith have gotten when Edward takes me to his lair and when I am there I am in the room where Cassandra used to paint and I am suddenly in awe of her beauty. She painted the walls of the mansion when they were in their prime; she was stunning and hard to lose. They had wealth and fame. They had it all. He wants to clean the city but he’s lost his mind. Lost his soul. The phantoms exist here because they can feel his energy. His despair is their perseverance; they take souls. He takes lives. I go to the window to peer at the rising sun. The hounds are home; their mouths thick with blood. Edward wants me to paint for him – if I can will he stop? Would he find his old place in the mansion?
Then I realize … the phantoms took his soul! They devoured him when he was in his weakness. He is a zombie too like the victims. The only thing he holds close are the paintings in this room. I wonder what Keith and Rodney will do next. I wonder how I can help him find his soul? The phantoms were the presence in his life after they died; he kept himself confined in the mansion. Fired his staff. He was alone and vulnerable. The wild dogs were his creation – a creation to devour the street rats … “disease are the filthiest of things.” He last said to me.
I move to a table where there is paint but I am a writer … and I have never painted before this time but I give it a try. I use bright colors and fill the canvas into a subjective tapestry of abstract paint. I hope he will like it. Can paint heal him? I have my doubts. Then there is a creek in the hinges as the door opens. I step to the side.
“I’m a writer …” I begin to say …”but I thought I’d try…”
He tosses up a hand and steps closer. There is blood staining his teeth. He has become the most gruesome of things – how could Cassandra leave him? That is foolish for me to think. He steps close to the painting and then peers into my eyes.
“How could you create this?”
I know, I think I know, what he’s truly asking, “I’m highly intuitive…” I say and he looks again at the paint … “yellow was her favorite color.”
He can see the day lilies in the paint.
“I am sensitive to the emotions of others.”
“Very well.” He turns away. Their deaths have changed him.
“You can go.” And the light is out the window and I take to the front door while inside the house all becomes quiet and at rest.
“He truly believes he’s cleaning this city.” I tell Rodney who can only hug me.
“We’ve lost Keith,” he says. “I was afraid I lost you too.”
And I learn Keith is a zombie because one bite is not fatal but the saliva has changed him.