Read Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore Online

Authors: Kim Paffenroth

Tags: #Horror, #Short Stories, #Thriller, #+IPAD, #+UNCHECKED, #+AA

Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore (13 page)

BOOK: Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore
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The sloping floor became level again after
the next turn. There, Bonnie was in the grip of the cadaver. Leo
was nowhere to be seen. The corpse’s hands were wrapped around
Bonnie’s throat, and her gun lay on the floor below her dangling
feet. Clawing at the cadaver’s raw cheeks, pulling away strings of
flesh, she gurgled Malcolm’s name. Like Ray, she believed it was
him. She wouldn’t know otherwise until she was already dead, and
maybe not even then.

Leo emerged from an alcove behind the
cadaver with a rusty pipe in his hands, and he brought it down on
the cadaver’s neck with all his strength. The thing buckled over,
dropping Bonnie. As she hit the floor, her foot kicked the gun

Saul rounded the corner. “Get away from

The cadaver turned to Leo, who hit it across
the face with the pipe, sending shards of teeth flying from its
mouth as it fell back.

Leo, get back!” Saul

Malcolm looked from Saul
to the cadaver, then back. And

The cadaver straightened up. Leo stood between it
and Bonnie, ready to strike again, but the thing turned to

No,” the old man
breathed. “Malcolm, stop it. Don’t—you don’t have it in

Leo snatched up Bonnie’s gun, but she
grabbed his arm and tugged him back. “No!” he said. “We can’t leave

Give me the gun!”
Bonnie’s shout reverberated through Malcolm as he watched the scene

Leo handed the pistol over, and Bonnie tried
to find a shot, but the cadaver was already upon Saul, seizing his
head in both hands and lifting him off the floor. Saul’s eyes
fluttered in his face.

The cadaver released him.

At first Malcolm thought Saul had used some
sort of secret command, but then the thing turned, and he saw the
needle protruding from its chest just below the collarbone. The
syringe was empty. The cadaver staggered, fell against the wall.
Then the entire world began to transform—Malcolm’s world, his
perception—color draining away and sound fading. The poison was
affecting him too. He fought to steady himself while the cadaver
stumbled past him.

It was after Bonnie and Leo again. They fled
down the hall, deeper into the plant. Saul sat on the floor and
held his head. “Almost…killed me. Malcolm…”

He looked at the ghost. Saul was
black-and-white now, his edges soft and indistinct. Malcolm’s point
of view yawed from side to side. Saul rose—he looked more confident
than ever—and pulled the other syringe from his coat. “One more,
Malcolm. Then it’s over. You’re over.”

His voice went in out, and then the
thrumming chaos of the world around Malcolm—the spitting and
crackling of the lights, the howls of the empty pipe-works, the
distant pleas of the cadaver’s prey—overwhelmed him. He couldn’t
see anymore. He felt Saul passing through him, heard the man mutter
something. Malcolm fought to regain his foothold in the corporeal,
he tried to clear his mind of panic over what would happen to Leo
if the cadaver were left to its own devices, and over what might
happen to him if Saul landed that second needle in its back. One
way or another, he didn’t believe he was long for the world. He had
to make sure he went out alone.

The world resolved into a gray blur. He was
able to make out the details of the corridor, and began moving
sluggishly after the others.

The corridor opened into a
huge concrete vault. The others were on a grated platform
overlooking a pool of waste. Bonnie and Leo coughed violently as
they crowded against the railing. The fumes must have been
terrible, but they were cornered by the cadaver and there was no
other way out but the way they’d come. It stood uncertainly before
them. Bonnie raised the gun.

He was weaving back and
forth behind the cadaver. Still stunned from the earlier attack,
Saul was fighting to stay on his feet. He held out the syringe and
“I have him! Here is his last

The cadaver lunged at Bonnie. The gun went
off in its face. It spun away, its cheekbone sheared away, embers
spewing from the sign in its forehead, then snapped back, grabbing
hold of her hair. She threw her arms out. Leo was knocked
off-balance, and Malcolm saw the railing giving way under his
weight, watched as Leo went over.

Saul and Malcolm reached the railing just in
time to see Leo splash down. He came up immediately, but only half
his head and his thrashing hands were visible. “Get out of there!
Get to the ledge!” Saul pointed frantically to a slab of concrete
jutting from the wall on Leo’s left.

Leo coughed, then screamed—in pain. “I

What do you mean?” Saul

Malcolm looked to the cadaver and Bonnie.
For a second, he had forgotten all about her, the last friend he
had left. Both of the cadaver’s hands were tangled in her hair, and
it beat on her back as it tried to fit its broken jaw upon the
crown of her head.

Malcolm turned back to Saul. He was paying
no attention to Bonnie’s struggle. “The ledge!” he shouted.

can’t!” Leo repeated, shaking his head in the muck. “My
Has to be either broken or caught in
—I’ll cast myself down to the

There was a sickening snap from the end of
the platform. The cadaver had Bonnie’s hand folded back against her
arm. Her mouth was open in a silent scream. With its other hand,
still in her hair, it smashed her head against the railing, its
gaze fixed upon Saul before she hit the floor.

Saul held out the syringe. “Come on,

Blood pulsed from Bonnie’s temple and
dripped through the grating, down to where Leo struggled and
screamed. Very little time left, one way or the other. Once either
Saul or the cadaver was dead, there would be no time.

Malcolm moved in front of
Leo’s stuck. I’ll try to get him
free. Just wait.

He’s not yours to save,”
Saul growled.

Only I can get down there! Only you can hold
off the cadaver! Think!

Saul shook his head.

If you love him,
Malcolm said, and then cast himself

The falling ectoplasm penetrated the
jelly-like scum on the surface of the pool. As Malcolm went under,
his vision went from black-and-white to sepia. He found himself
fixed just beneath the surface, a few feet from the flailing Leo,
whose head was barely above water. As Leo's arms churned the water,
light struck through, and Malcolm was able to see the junk lying at
the bottom of the vault—warped steel barrels, chunks of concrete,
and rebar spears pointed toward the surface. Leo's right ankle had
been skewered on one, a black cloud hung around his trembling

Malcolm cast ectoplasm toward the bottom. It
broke up almost immediately, and he barely moved. He cast again,
and again. Inch by inch he drew closer to Leo. He didn’t know how
he was going to be able concentrate his imagined fingers around
Leo’s ankle, worse yet, he didn’t know if he’d even make it down
there. His vision was flashing now. Saul might already have planted
the second syringe in the cadaver’s heart. Maybe he’d rather let
Leo drown than allow Malcolm to save him, even if Leo himself
wouldn’t know it was him.

That strengthened his
resolve, and he struck downward with unbroken concentration until
he was right beside Leo’s speared leg. He imagined hands around the
ankle. He was going to need the leverage of arms to do this, too,
and so he willed them to be. He felt resistance as ectoplasm formed
around fingers and wrists, bringing them into the corporeal, then
the ectoplasm fragmented, and he was limbless once more.

Can’t do it. Can barely see a thing.
Slipping…fading…have to stop thinking like a person. Think like a
ghost. Ghosts don’t have hands, or arms, you’re just imagining them
where you’d expect them to be.

That was it. He cast
himself upward, passed through the surface into the air. Leo was
sputtering, trying to force black slime from his mouth, tiring. On
the platform above, Saul danced around the lumbering
he bellowed.

Fixed just above the surface, Malcolm
focused without sight on Leo’s foot. He imagined his hands, still
beneath the water, still down at the bottom, coalescing around it.
Gripping it, if only for a second, before the ectoplasm eroded. And
at the same time he cast himself upward as far as he could.

His perspective shifted violently as
ectoplasm went up into the air, then rained down. He was pulled
into the slime again. But he’d felt it, on the upstroke—he’d pulled
Leo’s foot maybe an inch.

Leo screamed in agony. Malcolm ignored it
and imagined his hands. He felt Leo’s shoe and cast upward

I don’t need to be
underwater, sluggish and weak, to pull Leo. I can do it from up
At least above he had a bit more
power, so he cast himself upward again, and again, and when Leo’s
foot came free he felt it, and Leo immediately kicked toward the
ledge. He slung his arms over it and coughed violently. His
breathing sounded terrible.

Malcolm remembered there were fumes there
that he couldn’t inhale. He focused his hands beneath Leo’s arms
and hoisted him up in one final cast, onto the ledge, then hovered
over the pool. He looked to Saul, who had seen Leo, and was now
moving in for the kill. He looked back at Leo one last time.

Leo’s head was lying against the concrete,
facing away from him, but Malcolm heard him say, “Thank you, thank
you.” He had never believed in God…he must have learned to believe
in something.

Malcolm was hit by a wave of disorientation
that seemed to spin the world around him. He tried to cast as light
bloomed, and he couldn’t. There was nowhere to cast. There was
nothing to cast.

There was nothing.


“I’ll get you up,” Saul called hoarsely to
Leo. “Hold on.”

Bonnie stirred. She gripped her broken wrist
and let out a sharp wail. Saul went to her. “I need your help. Do
you have a phone?” He reached into her jacket.

What…” She lifted her
head and saw the cadaver lying on its back, the second syringe in
its shoulder.

We need to call for
help,” Saul told her. “I can barely breathe. Leo must be
suffocating down there.”

Bonnie was still looking at the cadaver, and
the syringe. “What is that?”

Poison. It’s

How did you know to do

A magician never reveals
his secrets,” Saul said, forcing a smile, and offered Bonnie his

A raw, skeletal claw fell upon his shoulder.
It tightened until he shrieked in pain, hauling him to his feet.
The cadaver hurled him across the platform. Saul bounced off the
far wall and crumpled to the floor. “Help me!” he gasped.

The cadaver looked down at Bonnie. It
plucked the syringe from its shoulder, its shattered jaw moved, and
she heard a faint moan, as if it were trying to form words.

It knelt and touched its
fingers to her temple. She sat rigid, looking only into its eyes,
until it touched those same fingers to her leg. In her blood, in
that same blocky handwriting, it printed:

She understood, and accepted it.

What happened to you?”
she whispered through tears.

The cadaver turned from her without
answering. It went to Saul.

He wanted so badly to explain. He wanted to
explain it all, before he went away, he wanted his proper ending.
But, in truth, he still didn’t understand it all himself. He didn’t
know how he was back in his body, or how he was able to move
through such unimaginable pain. But he was, and he collected Saul
and drew him into an embrace. He turned toward the railing. Saul
screamed a litany of curses, some profane, others in tongues
Malcolm didn’t recognize. The old man beat his head against
Malcolm’s skull, and the last embers of the yellow sign fell

They stood at the edge of the platform,
Malcolm gripping Saul in a crushing bear hug, staring into his face
until their eyes met.

This will have to do for an ending.

He leaned forward, and they tumbled into the

The rebar pierced them both. Saul’s last
scream bubbled from his throat, followed by a dark mist. They
floated in silence on the skewers. Then, it was just Malcolm.

Then no one.


I love you Leo, and Bonnie, and Ray. I love you,
Jean. It’s all I am now. This beautiful light.




The End





* * *


About the Authors



Orpheus & The Pearl Author

Kim Paffenroth


Dr. Kim Paffenroth is a professor of religious
studies at Iona College, and the author of several books on the
Bible and theology. He grew up in New York, Virginia, and New
Mexico. He attended St. John's College, Annapolis, MD (BA, 1988),
Harvard Divinity School (MTS, 1990), and the University of Notre
Dame (PhD, 1995). He now lives in upstate New York with his wife
and two kids.

His work in the horror
genre includes
Gospel of the Living Dead:
George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth
(Baylor, 2006) - Winner, 2006 Bram Stoker Award;
Dying to Live: A Novel of Life among the
(Permuted Press, 2007); and
Dying to Live: Life Sentence
(Permuted Press, 2008). His newest is
Valley of the Dead
(Permuted Press,
2010). He has also edited the anthologies
History Is Dead
(Permuted Press,
2007), and
The World Is Dead
(Permuted Press, 2009).

BOOK: Orpheus and the Pearl & Nevermore
4.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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