The Statewide Thing – Joseph Rubas
“Come on, Harv; you’re killing me.”
Dave Birsk switched the phone to his left hand and switched on the lamp, filling the living room with soft, warm light. It was late, past nine, and he was tired.
On the other end, Harvey, his brother, sighed. “I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t an emergency.”
“Are you sure it can’t wait until tomorrow?”
Dave shook his head. “Alright. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Harvey sounded relieved. “Good.”
Dave hit the END button and put the phone into his pocket. He got up, sighed, and went over to the metal rack by the door. He grabbed his shoes, slipped them on, and hit the bathroom before leaving.
Outside, the night was crisp and cold, a frigid wind moving noisily through the trees along the highway. A half mile past them, the Potomac crashed against the shore, the sound of it near deafening.
Harvey owned a bail bonds business in Fredericksburg, twenty-five miles north of Colonial Beach, where Dave lived. With travel time alone, Dave wouldn’t be back until past midnight. Thank God he was off tomorrow.
Dave…you gotta help me, Harv had said. He sounded bad…like a man in deep shit.
What? What’s wrong?
I…I can’t tell you over the phone, but you gotta come. You gotta.
God only knew what Harvey had gotten himself into this time. Ever since Yolanda left him in 2013, he’d been a wreck, drinking too much, going to the bars, always stinking like booze. Dave loved his brother dearly, but dude was turning into a fucking alkie, just like dad, and Dave couldn’t stand alcoholics. The last time they talked, in March 2014, Dave told him he needed help.
I’m fine, Harv said.
No, you’re not, Dave countered.
They argued, and that was that. Harv didn’t call him and he didn’t call Harv. Now, out of the blue, Harv was on the horn, sounding all shaky and shit.
Dave didn’t like it.
The wind washed across his face like a brisk slap, bringing him out of his reprieve. He locked the door, descended the steps, paused, listened to the crashing of the river, and climbed into the Silverado.
As he drove through the empty streets of the Beach, Dave cycled through the radio stations, finally settling for 95.9 WGRQ, Hometown Oldies or whatever they called it. He was surprised to hear the opening strands of one of his favorite songs from childhood.
Whaaaaaat? That’s not oldies! That’s…
Dave sighed. He supposed it was oldies. The new oldies.
May, how time does fly. He would be fifty-one next year, though he neither felt nor looked it. Harv was only a couple years behind. Forty-eight? Forty-nine? He couldn’t remember, but he was coming up on the big 5-0 pretty fast. It was wild when you thought about it. When you’re young, you know intellectually that, say, ten years isn’t a long time, but you never truly know until you can look back at ten years past with the clear and level visibility of a thirty or forty year old. It wasn’t a long time, but, then again, it was. Just long enough to put some gray in your hair without being too obvious.
Outside the Colonial Beach town limits, darkness swallowed the Silverado. Houses were few and far between on the road to King George, and many of them were already dark. A car passed in the opposite lane, going back into town, but that was it. He didn’t see another vehicle until he crossed 301.
King George, the county seat of King George County, was clustered along the main drag (Highway 3…Kings Highway in town), a series of low, time worn buildings; auto shops, diners, the court house, the library. Dave checked the time on the dashboard clock. 9:40.
Things closed down early in the countryside. When he was a kid he hated it. The town he grew up in was a farming community south of Richmond. As soon as that sun set, everything closed like throwing a switch. Now, as an older man, he didn’t mind. He worked, he came home, and he slept. Not much time for anything else.
Dave’s phone buzzed in his pocket, scaring him.
“Are you coming?” Harv asked. He sounded desperate.
“Yes, I’m on my way.”
“Good, I don’t think…”
Harv stopped, and Dave was sure he heard someone else in the background.
“Harv, what’s going on?” Dave demanded.
“I can’t tell you until you get here.”
Dave could fucking strangle Harv. “Alright. I’ll be there shortly.”
He hung up and tossed the phone onto the seat next to him.
Fifteen minutes later, he was pulling onto Lafayette Blvd, which ran along the southern border of Fredericksburg’s Old Towne district. To his right, a set of train tracks crossed over a slanted street, the bridge gray and ancient. Just ahead, the old train station. It was a restaurant now, though it still served commuters to D.C. and Northern Virginia.
On the radio, CCR sang about someone named Willie.
Harvey’s office was north of the old courthouse on Princess Anne Street, right smack-dab in the heart of Olde Towne. Dave turned onto the street, waiting for a black man in a puffy jacket to cross, and crept forward. Ahead, the grand spires of a gothic church rose high into the night.
He parked at the curb in front of Harv’s office (STATEWIDE BAIL BONDS…EVERYWHERE, EVERY TIME!), a squat, ugly building with a red roof wedged between the town museum and a vacant lot. The front was all glass. In the alley between the museum and Harv’s office, a light shone. It was probably the light by the side door.
Harv was waiting.
For a long minute, Dave stayed in the car, preparing himself for what he might find. A dead hooker, maybe, or Harv covered in blood, a failed suicide attempt. His heart ached and his stomach rolled. He wished for a brief second that he hadn’t come after all, but then pushed it away. Harv was his blood. If he needed him, he’d be here.
With a deep breath, Dave killed the engine and got out, a particularly strong gust of wind nearly ripping the door from his hands.
At the head of the alley, Dave stepped on something, slid, and nearly fell. When he caught his balance, he looked at it.
At the side door, Dave pounded like a cop with a warrant. “Harvey!” he cried.
Dave pounded again. This time, the door opened, and Harvey stood in the doorway, a tall, thin man with glasses and a balding pate. His cheap brown suit was ruffled, and he looked sick, his face gray and his eyes bloodshot.
“What the hell’s going on?” Dave asked, pushing past Harvey. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Harvey said, “it’s not me.”
“What do you mean?”
Harvey looked guilty.
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Then what trouble are you in?”
Harvey swallowed. “Let me show you.”
Harvey led Dave down the hall to the back room where supplies were stored. The first thing Dave noticed on entering was the table in the middle of the room.
The second was the child strapped to it.
“What the fuck?” he drew.
The child stirred, made a small noise, and then turned to look at them, its head flopping bonelessly against the table. In the meager light cast from an overhead lamp, Dave saw two things: One, it was a boy, maybe four or five, and two…it was dead. Its skin, he noticed, was mottled and gray/blue. Its head was cracked and oozing. It was naked save for a pair of underwear, providing Dave a pretty good look at the decomposition already starting on the stomach.
“Hey, Dave,” it said, its voice dark and vile, “come suck my dick.”
Dave grabbed Harvey by the lapels and dragged him out into the hall. “What the fuck is that?”
Harvey chafed. “I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, just let me go.”
Dave shoved him back.
“Whip his ass, Dave!” the monster called.
“Shut up!” Harvey yelled. He looked back at Dave. “I don’t know what it is. I was coming home down 218 and it ran in front of me.”
218, which wound from Fredericksburg to King George, was one of the most dangerous roads in the area; surrounded by forest, it twisted, turned, rose, and fell so often it could legally be classified a theme park ride.
“It was starting to get dark, and I didn’t see it until the last moment. I hit the brakes, but…”
“You ran this thing over?”
“Look at its neck and head, Dave.”
In the room, the thing laughed. “My head flops like your wrist!”
Dave nodded. “Okay. So you hit it.”
Harvey nodded. “Yeah. I hit it, and stopped. I thought it was a…a…a deer or something. I mean, it was on all fours.”
“Like Yolanda in the projects!” the creature shouted, and Harvey stiffened.
“Hey, buddy, how about you shut the fuck up,” Dave said, taking a step into the room. “We’re having a conversation here.”
The monster flicked its tongue suggestively.
“Go on,” Dave said to Harvey.
Harvey took a deep breath. “I got out of the car and looked around. I didn’t see anything. My headlight was broken. That was it. Then as I’m getting in the car, I heard something underneath. I got down on my hands and knees…and there he was.”
Harvey shuddered as he remembered the creature in the darkness beneath the car.
“He flew out at me and tried to bite my neck.”
“Yummy neck!” the creature laughed.
Harv subdued the creature and tied it up with a pair of jumper cables he had in the trunk. “I panicked and brought him here. Then I called you.”
Dave took a long minute to process the story. It was crazy, impossible, yet there, tied to that table…
“Come on,” Dave said, slapping Harvey’s chest. “I want a closer look.”
Harv did a good job tying the monster down. One long strap went across its chest, while others held its hands and feet immobile. Dave did a circuit, walking slowly around, and studied the creature, despite its name calling: “Fag! Bitch! Punk!”
Upon closer inspection, its skin wasn’t just blueish gray, it was also shot through with yellow and brown. Its nails were long and jagged, its eyes deep and inky black. When it opened its mouth, its teeth were yellowed and pointed. He hazarded a quick touch of the thing’s forehead, and it was cold.
“This is fucking crazy,” Dave said finally. He stepped back from the table and put his hands on his hips. The monster asked for a handjob.
“You got a dirty mouth,” Dave said. “Where’d you learn to talk like that?”
Dave chuckled nervously. He and Harv exchanged a glance.
“Who are you?” Dave asked, his tone serious. He came forward and knelt by the creature. “What are you?”
The creature flashed a reptilian smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Get away from it,” Harv pled.
“Are you a zombie?”
The thing laughed. “Brains! Brains! Give me brains!”
“Come on, Dave,” Harv said.
Dave got up and went to his brother. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” Harv whined. “Kill it?”
Dave considered it. “No. We should call someone. The government. The army.”
Harv started. “But they’ll probably kill us! We’ve seen too much!”
Sighing, Dave looked at the creature. “What are you?” he asked again.
“Nothing,” the monster said.
“Kill it,” Harv said. “That’s the only way!”
He was right. “Do you have a crowbar or something in here?”
Harv nodded. “I keep a baseball bat in my office.”
“Go get it.”
Harv nodded and scurried away. For the moment, Dave was alone with the creature.
“You can’t kill me,” it said. It flopped its head back and forth several times as if to corroborate. “Your faggot brother couldn’t with his car, and you can’t with that bat.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Take your best shot.”
“Oh, I will.”
“You’re a bitch.”
The creature laughed and began to sing. “Dave is a bitch. Dave is a bitch. Punk ass, pussy ass bitch!”
Harv returned with the bat. It was heavy and wooden. Dave took it. “Alright,” he said. “Stand back.”
The creature smiled as Dave approached and raised the bat. “Make my day, asshole.”
The bat crashed down.
The creature’s head exploded. Skull and brain fragments sprayed Dave’s face. Dave opened his hitherto closed eyes. The monster’s head was a splattered mess.
It didn’t move.
“I think it’s dead,” he said.
Harv sounded relieved. “Thank G…”
In the mess, something moved.
Bone and brain fell away, and, to Dave’s unending horror, a pink, slug like thing emerged. “Holy shit!” he screamed.
The thing was roughly six inches long and smooth. On what Dave took to be its head, two antennae quivered and worked.
He had the unsettling feeling that the slug was looking at him.
The creature sprang forward, launching itself into the air. Screaming, Dave ducked, and watched in horror as it hit Harv square in the face. “Jesus Christ, Harvey!”
In a flash, the thing disappeared into Harvey’s nose. He screamed, danced back, pounding at his own face, and fell. Dave threw himself at his brother and collapsed at his side. “Harvey!”
Harvey screeched in agony as the thing bore into his brain. He jerked, writhed, and sputtered, his eyes turning red and his face losing its color. Dave was petrified. He tried to hold him down, but he was too strong. He looked helplessly around. There had to be something, something he could jam up his brother’s nose and get the slug.
Harvey fell still.
Dave looked down at him. His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted. “Harv?” he asked, shaking his shoulder.
“You okay?” he asked, his heart pounding.
Finally, Harv’s eyes opened.
They were black.
“Shit!” Dave spat, falling back. Harv sat up, rolled his neck, and looked directly at Dave. “Told you….”
Dave screamed and struggled back to his feet. The bat was lying halfway under the table, where he dropped it. He snatched it up, and, without hesitating, slammed it into the Harvey-thing’s arm with a sickening crack. The thing toppled over, spasmed, and began getting back to its feet. Dave brought the bat down onto its back, once, twice, three times, hoping to break its spine. Maybe if Harv couldn’t walk, or use his arm, the thing would go in search of another host. Out in the open, he could kill it.
For a long moment, Harv didn’t move. Dave stood at the ready. The slug didn’t appear either.
Fuck this, he decided. His phone was in the Silverado. If he could get to it, he’d call the cops, or the army, or someone.
“I’ll be back,” he said…to his brother, not the thing.
The rest of the building was dark and quiet, and Dave imagined other things in the shadows.
Outside, the wind had picked up and become even colder. Dave fought his way to the street, but before he reached the truck, something stopped him.
He looked up.
Things moved in the sky, obscuring the stars. They were large, he saw, massive, in fact, black and trimmed with bright running lights. Planes, he thought, but no; they didn’t look like any planes he’d ever seen before. Boxlike in dimensions, long, wide, and square.
“The invasion’s begun,” the Harvey-thing said from behind him.
Joseph Rubas is the author of over 200 short stories and several novels. His work has appeared in: Nameless Digest; The Horror Zine; All Due Respect; Thuglit, and many others. He currently resides in Florida.
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