Slim gasped at the sight before his eyes; the body was a mangled, bloody mess and it was difficult to imagine that this has been a living, breathing, laughing human with hopes and dreams and many years left on this Earth, someone who loved and was loved. Now, it was more like a mockery of life and it reminded him of something you might see in a museum or haunted house or, even worse, the stories your parents told you to deter sexual behaviour and drug use. No one would have guessed this atrocity was caused by another human being.
With one arm bent grotesquely back beneath the weight of the body, it appeared that this was not a painless end. The fingers of the hand that was visible didn’t even resemble fingers. Bloody strands of skin hung from protruding bones and tangled around each other; some hung limp where the bones inside had been crushed and could no longer give shape.
Yet, that was the least of the gruesome details. Slim’s eyes traveled the upper body of the corpse, to the head which was hanging at an angle at which no living body, and few cadavers, would be physically capable of resting. The neck, literally twisted around, the skin appearing like ropes wound around each other and the visible side of the face, should have been the side which was touching the ground. Blood ran down the cheek and over the lips, to the ground, from what once was an eye socket. Now, there was only a bloody gouge. Slim shivered as he wondered where the eye might be.
Worse yet, was the chest, or what once was the chest of this person. One would not be able to identify the gender of this corpse from fleshy mounds declaring femininity or the lack there-of. There simply was no flesh which could be discerned by the human eye. Instead, where skin should cover the curve a series of pairs of ribs, several ribs were broken, pried from there so well known position of comfort and force to reach to the sky. The bones, jagged and covered in now-dried blood and tissue were reminiscent of a crown or fence around the chest cavity. Slim thought of Stone Henge, but quickly shook the thought from his mind. This was not some esoteric rock art; this was the mutilated remains of a human being.
Peering over the body, he looked into the gaping darkness, surrounded by ribs, hoping to see the familiar sight of organs, even if they were out of order but there were not there. No heart beat, nor did it lie still. Lungs were absent from their usual place. Where the liver and stomach should have been just visible, there was nothing but blood and unidentifiable tissue, though where was not enough to have been the remains of the unaccounted for organs. A few shards of bone lay scattered in the otherwise empty crater, the only trace of the rest of the ribs.
As his eyes focused, Slim noticed several somethings extending upward, almost beckoning him in. Startled, he peered closer, realizing that they were, indeed, beckoning him closer. Four distorted fingers curled back slightly, as though they were waving him in and a thumb lay eerily fractured, away from the rest of the hand. The hand, he thought, belonged to the arm which was behind the body. The hand, he gasped in horror, penetrated through skin and muscle of the back and taunted him.
Slim stepped back quickly, turning as he doubled over in horror and shock, hands on his thighs and his body convulsed. And then it came. Vomit poured from his mouth, seemingly endless, first covering the ground and then layering upon itself. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes and streamed down his cheeks, falling to join the mound which was quickly forming on the ground. As soon as it started, it was over. Wiping his eyes and mouth, Slim stood once more, glancing back at the body.
“My eyes must be playing tricks on me,” he thought, dismissing the thought that he’d seen something move near the toe of shoe. Remarkably, there was no blood there but slim reckoned there might not be since most of the injuries sustained were toward the upper body of the corpse. He saw it again. Perhaps there was a bug crawling over the bloody remains. Bugs thrived on dead creatures and he imagined soon there would be many more partaking in this feast. And the animals. If someone didn’t move the body the animals would soon come to take of the flesh. They didn’t care how gruesomely their meal died, just as long as it provided them with some nourishment.
Slim was growing increasingly uneasy and didn’t know what he should do. Move the body so it would be hidden? Contact someone? The latter wasn’t any good because he was in the middle of the forest and it would take hours for him to hike out and then sometime after that before he’d reach anyone’s home, let alone town. Even then, he couldn’t guarantee that he would find his way back; he was much deeper than he usually went in the woods.
Before he could make up his mind, Slim saw movement again, only this time it was much larger than an insect. His mouth fell open as the corpse rose up to a sitting position, slowly but surely elevating from the ground, with no help from either of the hands. Blood poured from the body and the empty chest wound, more blood than there could possibly be from this corpse, despite its perverted lacerations. The mouth slowly formed into a crooked broken tooth smile. Blood flowed from there as well.
Suddenly, a disturbing scratching voice filled his head. Slim knew it was from the corpse, but the lips stayed frozen in the life-mocking smile, one eye not more than a bloody hole and the other rolled back, displaying only a murky grey globe. Still, he knew this thing was looking at him, talking to him and dread filled him as he heard the words it was speaking.
“You did this.”
Before he could manipulate his lips to form words whether to scream aloud or plead his innocence, Slim’s eyes widened in terror as a rush of red overtook him. Blood filled his open mouth, rushing over him, filling his lungs and stealing the last breath.
Slim gasped, bolting upright in his bed. Sheets fell off him and sweat glistened from his forehead and the bare skins of his arms. Almost panting, he could hear only his heart pounding in his ears. He shook his head, as if to physically remove the dream’s image from his mind.
Glancing toward the window, he imagined it to be just before 4 AM. The clock would be going off in less than thirty minutes but instead of stay in bed, Slim decided to make the most of the extra time this morning. Besides tending to the animals and the yard as well as cleaning the barn, there were more tasks waiting to be completed. Slim hoped to repair the back stoop and door, something which Mr. Anderson had intended to do for years, or so said Mrs. Anderson, but he never got around to actually doing it before the “incident” as she always called it. Slim assumed it was either a heart attack or a stroke. Either of those could incapacitate someone much like Mr. Anderson currently was, although he could understand why a woman her age would be hesitant to actually say those words out loud; it was partly naivete and fear that speaking them would cause her husband worse damage and partly hope that his current condition wouldn’t be permanent.
Stretching, Slim slipped his legs out from under the covers, his feet landing flat on the floor, and rose from bed. He reached for a towel draped over a chair which sat behind a small wooden table, across from the bed.. Both table and chair needed a bit of fixing up and Slim planned to do that soon as well, he thought, bending down to pick up a well worn pair of jeans and a dirty wife beater. Slim shook excess dirt from both of them and pulled the jeans on before draping the shirt over his left shoulder, grabbing a dirty, broken pair of work boots and pulling open the bedroom door to exit.
He quietly moved through the hall and then the kitchen, to the back door, carefully making his way over the broken boards of the stoop he had plans to fix, and across a few feet of yard to a wash basin he had set up on a board over two workhorses. Although Mrs. Anderson was hospitable enough to offer him the use of almost every amenity of her home, Slim liked his basin outside. The crisp morning air always felt cool on his skin and smelled fresh, like grass and trees and clean air, something one didn’t often experience in the suburbs that Slim used to know. Slim turning the knob of the faucet and listened and water began to run through the dark green garden hose, out through the end of the hose which he held in his other hand. He quickly filled the basin with icy water, listening to the birds chirping sleepily overheard. Dunking his hands in the water, he shivered and reached for a bar of soap lying on the board next to the basin, water dripping from his hands, darkening the wood’s natural rings and lines.
As he washed his hands, and then face, Slim thought about the day’s chores. He didn’t mind tending to the animals because chickens, unlike humans, never exchanged knowing glances amongst themselves when he entered the room and the goats were more than happy to nibble on the carrots he distributed among them and bleated softly when he would scratch them behind their ears. The animals never gave him any trouble; although, it wasn’t like he had to face any of those glances or knowing looks from people, either. He was a long way from home and while some were wary of a stranger in their town, most accepted him as a quiet man who didn’t cause any trouble at all. Maybe they just thought he was down on his luck and while that was partially true, he didn’t mind if that’s what they thought. It was better than everyone knowing he was a murderer.