Chasing the Moonby A. Lee Martinez
Unspeakable horrors threaten the earth in this fantastic new comic fantasy from the author of Divine Misfortune.
Diana's life was in a rut - she hated her job, she was perpetually single, and she needed a place to live. But then the perfect apartment came along. It seemed too good to be true - because it was.
The apartment was already inhabited -/i>… See more details below
Unspeakable horrors threaten the earth in this fantastic new comic fantasy from the author of Divine Misfortune.
Diana's life was in a rut - she hated her job, she was perpetually single, and she needed a place to live. But then the perfect apartment came along. It seemed too good to be true - because it was.
The apartment was already inhabited - by monsters. Vom the Hungering was the first to greet Diana and to warn her that his sole purpose in life was to eat everything in his path. This poses a problem for Diana since she's in his path...and is forbidden from ever leaving the apartment.
It turns out though that there are older and more ancient monstrous entities afoot - ones who want to devour the moon and destroy the world as we know it. Can Diana, Vom, and the other horrors stop this from happening? Maybe if they can get Vom to stop eating everything...and everyone.
Divine Misfortune reads like a mash-up of Neil Gaiman, Monty Python, and a sugar-bombed nine-year old."Locus
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Read an Excerpt
Chasing the Moon
By Martinez, A. Lee
OrbitCopyright © 2011 Martinez, A. Lee
All right reserved.
CHASING THE MOON
“You’re doing it again,” Sharon said.
The moon called to Calvin. After all this time he should’ve become accustomed, but it was always a distraction. Especially during the new moon when the silver orb disappeared in darkness.
Fenris, the monstrous thing, trailed behind the moon. The moon god shone like a fireball on those nights.
Tonight was only a half moon, though, and in some ways that was worse. During the full moon the voice was barely a whisper, and the horrible thing chasing after it turned a mottled, dark green that almost made it disappear. During the new moon the voice was so strong he could almost hear what it was saying, finding some comfort in the alien voice. But at the half moon the balance between his own mind and the horrid thing above was just right to allow it to claw and rake at his soul. It wasn’t intentional. Fenris was just as terrified and confused by the situation as he was, and it sought refuge in his mind, struggling against the endless, raging storm of madness.
Sharon turned Calvin gently away from the window and helped him with his tie. “I don’t know why you can’t ever make this straight.”
“I don’t know why it even matters,” he replied. “Nobody cares about the tie.”
“Oh, shush.” She put a hand to his lips. “It’s not going to kill you to dress up now and then.”
Sharon was tall, about twenty-five pounds heavier than Hollywood permitted non–character actors to be, with a smile that always managed to bring him down to earth.
“I just don’t see the point in—”
“You don’t have to see the point, Calvin dear. Sometimes we just do things because we do them. It’s tradition.”
He chuckled. Traditions meant little to him. Probably because he’d seen a thousand come and go.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“Nice,” he replied automatically, without taking the time to look at her.
She wasn’t offended, having become accustomed to his moods. She put a hand on his cheek and turned his face away from the night sky. “Ready?”
He nodded absently. “I guess so. But couldn’t you go without me just this once?”
Sharon frowned. “That’s not how this works. You know better than that.”
“Couldn’t we put it off for a day or two?”
“We’re on a very specific schedule,” she replied. “Greg says that tonight is the night, that the arrangement of the heavens is exactly where—”
“Well, if Greg says so.”
“Don’t be like that.” She fell just short of a scolding tone, the kind reserved for misbehaving three-year-olds.
“I really don’t like that guy,” said Calvin.
She always did know the right thing to say.
In point of fact, lots of people liked Greg. He was a likable person, almost pathologically so. Greg didn’t just want you to like him. He needed it. Calvin found that need cloying.
“Does it really matter if we skip this one?” he asked.
“A lot of people are looking forward to tonight. You don’t want to be responsible for ruining things, do you?”
“I guess not.”
“Good. Now get your shoes on. The car service should be here any minute.”
She gave him a light kiss on the cheek and left him to finish dressing. He owned more shoes than any straight, non-metrosexual man should. Sharon kept buying them. She said you could tell a lot about a man by his shoes. All he could tell was that he had too many shoes.
He reached for a pair of white sneakers.
“Oh, Calvin,” called Sharon from the other room, “if you’re going to insist on inappropriate shoes, could you at least wear the black ones?”
He grabbed the black sneakers and put the right one on. Something foreign wiggled between his toes. Annoyed, he removed the shoe and turned it upside down. A glop of yellow slime dropped onto the carpet.
The slime sprouted thick brown hair. A single eye opened and blinked at him.
“Sharon, I did it again!”
He reached for the glop, only to have it skitter under the bed.
“Goddamn it.” He dropped down onto the floor and probed in the darkness. “Sharon!”
“Oh, hell, Calvin,” she said. “We don’t have time for this.”
“Don’t tell me,” he replied. “Tell it.”
His hand closed on the moist, hairy thing, but it squirmed out of his fingers.
“Damn it,” he said. “Come here, you little bastard.”
The bed rocked as the thing growled and hissed. Spitting, it bit off Calvin’s hand. He pulled back a bloody stump, except the blood was black and as thick as tar.
The monster threw the bed to one side. The hairy lump turned to the window and howled at the moon. Then it hurled itself through the glass, plummeting to the ground far below with a long, startled gurgle that ended when it hit the pavement.
None of the lump beasts ever grasped the concept of gravity. More often than not, it was their undoing.
A new hand bubbled upward from his stump. The flesh was grayish, the veins a web of bright red. It would look more normal in a few minutes.
Sharon entered. She shook her head at the broken window.
“Honestly, Calvin. Sometimes I think you do this on purpose.”
He shrugged. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. Just get your shoes on.”
The bed fell back into place. The window un-broke. An invisible hand tried to pluck Calvin from the fabric of reality. It failed, as it always did. He was a barb stuck beneath the skin of the universe, an unwanted invader that could not be removed. The invisible hand scratched at him like a dog scratching at a flea. It didn’t hurt, but it was irritating.
The moon god wailed.
It was going to be one of those nights.
They went downstairs to a waiting black sedan. They sat in the back in silence. The driver didn’t need to be told where to go, and there was nothing to discuss. The routine was set. Sharon read a People magazine while Calvin stared out the window, watching the city pass. They rode into the well-to-do suburbs, where the houses hid behind stone walls and iron gates. The car pulled onto an estate and traveled down the winding driveway. Sculpted topiaries and pavement fell away to gravel and untended bushes. The gravel turned to dirt, and the bushes became a forest. Calvin wasn’t sure how large the estate was, but it took at least five minutes to drive from the gate to the house at its center. And the well-manicured lawns disappeared, consumed by a twisted wilderness.
The manor house was a foreign piece of civilization in an intentionally uncivilized place. Electric lights illuminated a few windows, but mostly fires in braziers or torches lit the way. Thirty-six cars were parked in the dirt clearing beside the front porch. Two more than last week, Calvin noted.
An older woman in a red dress and her young trophy husband in a tuxedo followed the torches to the back of the house. He’d seen them before but had never bothered to learn their names.
When Calvin exited the car a bearded man in a turtleneck averted his eyes and bowed slightly before scrambling away in badly disguised panic. Calvin frowned.
“Why do they always do that?” he asked.
“Be nice,” said Sharon.
“It’s just goddamn annoying, that’s all. I don’t see you doing that kowtowing nonsense.”
“And it’s a good thing I don’t. Someone has to make sure you keep your appointments.”
They circled to the back porch, a sprawling alcove of stone columns with twisted, inhuman figures carved into them. Most of the figures were hidden under overgrown creeping moss. Just enough effort had been made to keep the invading wilderness at bay. A small gathering place was cleared, large enough for the guests to mill about a table of cheese, wine, and caviar.
They were a varied group. The Chosen made no distinction among age, race, or gender. Greg’s need to be liked held no prejudice or preference.
The Chosen studiously avoided looking at Calvin. He thought about getting something to drink, but as soon as he stepped over there they’d bow and scrape and kiss his ass.
He was so sick of this.
Sharon read his mind. “I’ll get you a glass. Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Thanks. What would I do without you?”
He turned toward the marble throne at the top of the steps. It was hard and uncomfortable, but he’d gotten used to that. Greg, a smirking, sycophantic dullard decked out in that ridiculous lavender robe, stood beside the chair. Calvin glanced over his shoulder at Sharon for rescue, but she was already involved in a conversation with another guest.
“Might as well get this over with,” mumbled Calvin to himself. He pushed forth a smile as he approached the throne.
“So good of you to join us, Lord of the Wilds,” said Greg. “We are unworthy of your presence, much less your gifts.”
“Yes. Don’t suppose we could speed this up?” asked Calvin. “I’m not really feeling it tonight.”
Greg smiled. His smile, either by design or incompetence, was a smarmy, counterproductive achievement. Maybe it was only Calvin who saw it as such. Greg never had a lack of friends.
It was always this kind of asshole that Calvin found himself associating with. He sometimes wondered what it said about him.
Greg looked into the night sky. The design of the alcove and the strange magic of the estate made every star closer and brighter. The half moon glittered like a polished nickel.
“The stars are almost right,” he said. “Let them wipe away the corruption of civilization from these frail mortal shells.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Calvin sat on the throne. A charge tickled his elbows, and the moon and its pursuing god whispered its secrets. If only he could hear them clearly …
Sharon appeared with a plate of cheese and two glasses of wine. “Hello, Greg. Lovely night, isn’t it?”
Greg nodded in that familiar, rehearsed, faraway manner. It was meant to be wise and thoughtful, but came across as ponderous and slow-witted. As if his brain were a rusty collection of gears that had to simultaneously process the question and crank his neck.
“I think the McKinneys were looking for you,” she said. “Something about another donation to the temple, I believe.”
With a hasty adieu, Greg scurried off in search of more of the material wealth he spent most of his life acquiring and condemning simultaneously.
“Thank you,” said Calvin. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“I do what I can.”
They tapped their glasses together and waited for the alignment. When it neared, the catering staff moved away the table, and the guests—everyone but Calvin on his throne and the staff hiding away behind locked doors—stood nude in the alcove. They formed a half circle, fell to their knees, and prostrated themselves before Calvin, their lord and master.
Greg, toned and tanned, his skin smoothed by lasers and obsessive waxing, a paradox of the natural world and humanity’s obsession with grooming away his links to it, began to preach. Calvin didn’t listen. He knew the gist of it. The new world was coming. Civilization would fall, replaced by something purer, more worthy. The strong would rule. The weak would perish. Glory, glory, something about beautiful chaos, blah, blah, blah, blah.
The crowd writhed and moved with the rhythm of Greg’s words. There was always that moment near the end of the ceremony when Calvin considered just getting up and walking away. They’d just track him down again. They always did. Or someone like them.
A ray of silver moonlight shone down on the throne. Calvin felt the crackle of extranatural powers pass through him as if he were a prism. It filtered into the crowd, triggering the change.
Greg was the first. His body hunched over as patches of brown and black hair sprouted. A second pair of arms grew from his shoulders. The legs bent and twisted. And the head became a giant pair of jaws, filled with pristine white fangs. The beast clawed the marble, raised its head, and howled.
It turned and stalked toward Calvin as the other guests finished their transformations. Nostrils flaring, the creature studied Calvin with beady yellow eyes. Frowning, Calvin looked right back into its eyes until the monster cowered before him.
“Piss off, Greg.”
The whimpering beast retreated. It joined the pack. Snapping, snarling, the wild creatures ran into the darkened forest. They wouldn’t be back until morning, when the exhausted, naked humans would slink back to the manor with blood on their lips.
Somewhere in the darkness an inhuman monster bayed at the moon.
Calvin went to the small guesthouse. A beast waited for him, curled up on the couch. It raised its head at him and wagged its tail.
He scratched her behind the ears, and she clawed the couch to shreds in her pleasure. She lowered her head.
He smiled. “It’s all right. It’s not my couch.”
He sat beside her. She set her head on his lap. He turned on the television. The Wolfman was playing.
Sighing, he changed the channel and waited for the dawn.
“Third rule is don’t pet the dog,” said Mr. West.
A sad-eyed puppy sat in front of one of the three doors in the hallway. It was white with brown and black spots and big floppy ears, and it whined as they walked past.
“Does it bite?” Diana asked.
“Whose is it?”
“It belongs to Number Two,” said West, “but he lost control of it about a year ago. Now he’s lucky if it lets him out on the weekends to pick up groceries.”
He wheeled and stared at her with tightly narrowed eyes. So much so she wasn’t sure they were even open.
“Mark my words, Number Five. Bad things happen to those who don’t follow the rules.”
His long mustache twitched and he scratched his shaggy head, then turned back, walking up the six steps to Apartment Number Five. He fumbled with an overloaded key ring. As far as Diana could tell there were only seven apartments in this small building, but he must’ve had at least three dozen keys on that ring.
“This’ll be yours,” he said.
She wasn’t so sure. The rent on this place was remarkably cheap, but if a creepy landlord came with the package, she’d have to think it over.
She didn’t have to think it over for long.
The small apartment was fully furnished. It came with a brand-new sofa, a television, an old-fashioned jukebox like she’d always wanted. The jukebox even had all her favorite songs on it.
“Does this work?” she asked.
West shrugged and mumbled.
The kitchenette was bare except for some silverware in a drawer, but she didn’t cook anyway. There were a few Mr. Fizz sodas in the fridge, though.
“I didn’t know they still made this brand,” she said. “They’re my favorite.”
“Really? Are you sure it’s okay? What about the former tenant?”
“But won’t he be coming back for his stuff?”
“I doubt it.”
She hesitated but decided that one soda wouldn’t hurt anything. It tasted just as good as she remembered. Better.
He showed her the bedroom. Superman posters decorated the walls, along with art prints and a huge black-and-white photo of the Arc de Triomphe and another of the Eiffel Tower. It was bizarre. She knew she had eclectic tastes, and she had never expected anyone else to share them.
“There’s no way anyone would leave this stuff behind,” she said.
“It’s not his stuff,” he said. “It’s yours. If you want it.”
The rent on this place was half what she’d expected, and the décor meant she could just grab her three suitcases from the car and be unpacked within the hour. It was too good to be true.
“What’s the catch?” she asked.
He smiled. “Ah, there’s a smart girl.”
She stiffened. Her first thought was that this guy was a fiend who lured innocent young women into a life of orgies and pornography, but it would take more than a jukebox and a sixpack of soda to get Diana to strip on a webcam. Maybe if a good cable package came with the deal …
“Rule number two,” he said. “Never open this closet.”
He pointed to a door tucked away beside the bathroom.
“Why?” she asked.
“A good question. People who ask too many questions don’t usually last. Number Seven asked a lot of questions. Used to.”
He fumbled with the key ring and managed, after some rattling and grumbling, to pull off the key to the apartment and offer it to her.
“It’s all yours if you want it.”
She didn’t reach for the key just yet. A sixth sense warned her that she was striking a Faustian bargain. Odd, since she wasn’t sure what a Faustian bargain was. But it was something not to be taken lightly. She knew that.
“If you don’t want it,” he said, “somebody else will.”
“What’s the first rule?” she asked. “You told me the third and second rules, but not the first.”
He paused, chewed his lip.
“The first rule is turn the lights off when you leave a room. Just because I pay the utilities that doesn’t mean I’m made of money.”
Diana would’ve sold her soul for paid utilities, so she snatched the key. West was surprised enough to open his eyes to a softer squint.
“Where’s the lease?” she asked.
“There’s no lease. You stay as long as you’re able, Number Five. Leave whenever you’re willing.”
She followed him out the door. Her three suitcases were already sitting in the hallway.
“Hmm,” he said. “Apartment must like you. That’s a good sign.”
He waddled away without saying another word. The moment he was out of sight, even the jangle of his keys disappeared. Silence filled the hallway. No, that wasn’t quite right. Music came from somewhere. So light it almost couldn’t be heard. Like a chorus rehearsing. She couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, though.
The puppy in front of Apartment Two glanced forlornly in her direction and whimpered.
She glanced around her shiny new apartment. So what if the landlord was a bit of a nut? This place was made for her, and with the run of bad luck she’d had in the last few weeks, this was a good omen. Things were turning around.
She fed the jukebox a nickel. The mechanical arm grabbed the gleaming vinyl disk and set it on the turntable. Frankie Avalon sang about the virtues of beach life, and she smiled.
Diana wasted no time getting unpacked. She needed to claim this apartment. She’d been living out of suitcases too long, bumming off of friends like a vagabond. She shoved her clothes into the dresser so eagerly that she didn’t fold most of them. But once she closed the drawer she felt she’d made her mark. She lounged around for an hour, sitting on the sofa, drinking soda, watching TV, just relaxing. Chubby Checker, Aretha Franklin, and the Big Bopper kept her company. And when she was tired, she fell asleep on the nice comfortable bed and dreamed the strangest dreams.
She was herself, but she wasn’t herself. She flew across other worlds, strange realms without form or substance, lost cities and ghosts of forgotten civilizations passing beneath her. Time rendered everyone and everything into dust. From the tiniest speck to the greatest of the ancients. In the center of it all the slumbering god lay still, wrapped in the dream that foolish mortals and inhuman deities alike called reality.
The god opened one of his countless eyes. An eye bigger than the sun. And though she was just a mote, the yellow-and-black orb focused on her. The weight of a vast, incomprehensible universe threatened to crush Diana. She tried screaming. Her throat filled with bile and her brain melted as every cell in her body convulsed in absolute horror before exploding.
She awoke covered in sweat. Her heart pounded. A chill in the air turned her breath frosty. And just for a moment she thought the walls were moving, and something else was swimming under the covers.
She turned on the lights. Everything snapped back to normal. Her terror vanished as quickly as it had come. The air warmed. She marveled at how alien and real the dream had been. Although it was all fading now, transforming into shadowy memory the way dreams did.
Diana got up, grabbed a glass of water, and headed back to bed.
“Bad dream?” someone asked.
She jumped and whirled around. Self-defense courses sprang to mind, and she was ready to shout and gouge and do what needed to be done.
Nobody was there.
“Settle down, girl,” she told herself. “You’re imagining things.”
“No, you’re not,” said the voice.
She jumped again, but this time had the presence of mind to listen for the source.
It was coming from the closet.
“Hello?” she asked quietly. “Is there someone in there?”
There was no reply.
She went to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on her face, and dried herself with a towel. She was sticky with sweat, and a shower sounded appealing. But she’d seen enough slasher movies to know what happened next.
Part of her said it was time to leave. Don’t pack anything. Don’t change out of your pajamas. Just walk out of the apartment and never look back. But that was stupid. She wasn’t about to be spooked out of her new home by a crazy dream.
Another part of her suggested that this was still just a dream. She’d wake up in another moment and laugh at herself. But it was all so clear, so lucid. She’d never dreamed anything as weird as the flying segment at the beginning. Nor anything as ordinary as walking around her apartment, looking for a phantom voice.
“Bad feng shui,” she remarked to herself, as if that explained everything.
“Oh, I agree,” said the closet. “The couch really should be a few more feet to the right. And the coffee table counteracts the openness of the room.”
The voice wasn’t threatening. Diana was determined to stay calm, but she wasn’t going to stick around or investigate. Most stupid victims in movies tended to die because they weren’t smart enough to go away from the sound of the chain saw. She didn’t want to run around in her underwear since that seemed like a cliché too, but stopping to get dressed in the name of vanity also got you killed in these situations.
The front door was gone. Only a wall. There weren’t any windows, no other ways out.
She was trapped.
“Don’t panic,” said the closet. “Let’s just keep our wits, and we’ll work everything out.”
Diana said, “This isn’t funny.”
“You don’t think I find it funny, do you?” replied the closet. “I don’t like this arrangement any more than you do.”
She tried the phone.
“Don’t open the closet,” said West’s familiar voice on the other end of the line.
She hung up, dialed 911.
“Don’t open the closet,” repeated West.
“Damn it. You can’t do this. It’s illegal. People will know I’m missing.”
“You can leave any time you want, Number Five.”
“Open the closet.”
“But you just said I’m not supposed to open the closet.”
“Stay as long as you’re able, Number Five,” said West. “Leave whenever you’re willing.”
The line went dead.
“Looks like we’re stuck with each other,” said the closet.
Diana pounded on the walls and shouted for a few minutes. Nobody heard her. Or maybe somebody did. More prisoners ensnared in West’s bizarre game. She used a tall standing lamp as a battering ram against the wall with negligible results. She stripped the paint and chipped away some of the wood. If this was her only option, it was going to be a lot of work. Even if he didn’t have anything weird planned, even if he was just going to leave her locked in here with a guy trapped in a closet, she’d starve to death before doing any real damage.
Just the realization made her prematurely hungry. She’d have to settle for a soda, though she would’ve killed for a turkey sandwich. She found one waiting for her in the fridge. The Mr. Fizz five-pack had regenerated its sixth can as well.
Someone was in here with her. Someone other than the guy in the closet.
Lamp in hand, she searched the apartment. She came up empty.
“Where is it?” she asked.
“Where’s what?” replied the closet.
“The secret door.”
He chuckled. “There’s only one way out, and you’re talking to it.”
“I’m not stupid. Somebody had to put that sandwich in the refrigerator.”
“You did. By wishing for it.”
“How gullible do you think I am?”
“What kind of sandwich is it?” asked the closet.
“What difference does that make?”
She slumped against the wall and glared at the closet. “Turkey.”
“And what kind of sandwich were you just thinking about?”
Diana dismissed the observation as irrelevant at first. But she hadn’t verbalized her sandwich desires. Assuming that there was a secret door somewhere and that someone had sneaked into the small apartment and slipped in a sandwich before escaping, all without her noticing, they’d still have had to be telepathic to know what she wanted, and have some sort of super-speed sandwich-making ability.
The rational explanation had a lot of holes in it.
She returned to the fridge. The sandwich was still there. An inspection revealed that it was exactly how she liked it. With just a touch of mayo and mustard, a single leaf of lettuce and three tomato slices. She stuck it back in the fridge, closed the door, and stared at the appliance for ten seconds.
“Orange juice,” she said, opening the door.
The sandwich was gone. In its place, a tall glass of juice.
She closed the door.
“Deep-fried Twinkie,” she whispered, throwing open the door.
And there it was.
Diana had spent too much of her life in a logical world to be convinced just yet. Only after she had pulled the refrigerator away from the wall, checked for false walls and trapdoors, and come up with nothing did she see no other choice. The guy in the closet was strange but didn’t require a supernatural explanation. A magic fridge wasn’t so easy to dismiss.
“Damn.” She circled the fridge twice before admitting defeat. “I’ll take that sandwich now.”
She ate the sandwich in the kitchen, not even sitting down, and tried to make sense of this, but it didn’t click.
The phone rang. She went to the living room, stared at the phone, but didn’t pick it up.
It kept ringing.
“Are you going to answer that?” asked the closet.
She put the receiver to her ear.
“About time,” West said. “I may be ageless, Number Five, but I don’t have all day.” He paused. “So did you open the closet yet?”
“Will you shut up about the stupid closet already?”
He hung up.
“Ah, damn it.” Diana stared at the receiver, then the closet.
“Frustrating, isn’t it?” said the closet. “Imagine how I feel. I was spawned at the dawn of time and now I find myself bound to a small clump of transient flesh.”
“Bound by what?”
“Whatever decides these things. Primal forces that make even me piss myself. Or would if I pissed. It’s a complicated universe. Sorry if I can’t just summarize it in a pithy metaphor.”
The phone rang again. She took a moment to steady herself. Losing her temper wasn’t getting her anywhere.
“Hello,” said West. “Ready to talk now?”
She sucked in a deep breath and replied in an even voice. “Yes.”
“Good. Here’s how it works. Inside that closet is an ancient entity known as Vom the Hungering. He’s actually a pretty decent sort, as ancient spawns go. But if you let him out of that closet, he will eat you.”
She lowered the phone. “You’re a cannibal?”
Vom chuckled. “Cannibals eat their own kind. I am a singular entity. There is only one Vom the Hungering, and that is me. And you are?”
She ignored the question. “You’re going to eat me?”
“Yeah, probably. Don’t suppose it helps anything if I apologize in advance.”
She put the phone to her ear. “Pay attention, Number Five. You are now Vom’s warden. You will not age or grow sick and you cannot die by conventional means.”
“Okay, this is sounding more and more like bullshit,” she said.
“Don’t interrupt. I have other responsibilities. If I don’t bring Number Three an avocado in five minutes California will fall into the ocean.”
“Yeah. Sure. Makes sense.” She admitted defeat and just listened.
“One day, Number Five, you will release Vom. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not a hundred years from now. But one day, when the crawl of eternity becomes too much for you, you will open that door. He will then devour you, go back into his prison, and wait for the next warden. That is just how this works. There’s no point in complaining to me about it either. I don’t have any control over any of it.”
“I’m not even obligated to give you this information, but you seem like a nice young woman. So best of luck.”
He hung up, and she knew he wouldn’t be calling back this time.
She checked the apartment again. Ran her fingers along every wall, probed every corner, moved every bit of furniture. If there was a way out she didn’t find it, but just to be certain she checked one more time.
If West was to be believed (though she wasn’t quite ready for that) she was a prisoner and her only way out was death. And if she was immortal there was only one form of death available, to be devoured by a monster living in her closet.
She found a butter knife in the cabinet and ran it across her palm. It wasn’t easy getting the blade to draw blood, but she managed. The shallow cut closed immediately. There wasn’t even a scar left behind.
It was as far as she was willing to go right now. Maybe in a hundred years she’d be so bored that sawing her arms off with a dull butter knife would sound amusing.
Stay as long as she could. Leave whenever she was willing. She got it now.
She went back to bed. The clock radio on the nightstand counted the minutes. She turned the bright red numbers toward the wall and tried not to think about it. If she really was immortal she had all the time in the universe. It seemed pointless to obsess over every second. Diana turned the clock toward her and frowned. Twenty-two minutes had passed.
She put the pillow over her face and reflected on infinity, breaking it up into twenty-two-minute chunks. Endless bits of twenty-two, one right after the other after the other.
The crawl of eternity indeed.
She got up and turned on the television. Nothing was on. Or maybe she just wasn’t in the mood.
“Can’t sleep either, huh?” asked the closet monster. “I hate that. Of course I only sleep seven minutes every other century. And believe me, that’s annoying. I have a lot of time to kill and a nap now and then might help.”
She turned up the volume.
“We’re the only company we’re going to have for a long, long while,” Vom said. “We can at least try and be civil.”
She stared at the TV, not really watching it, just thinking about the passage of time, listening to the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the wall. Where had that clock even come from, anyway? It hadn’t been there before. She was certain of that. She’d been over every inch of this place.
Diana muted the television.
“This isn’t fair,” she said. “All I wanted was an apartment.”
“You seem like a decent lady,” said Vom. “I’m really sorry that I have to eat you.”
She walked over to the closet. “You keep saying that, but if you were really sorry you wouldn’t. Then I could open this closet, and we could both get out of here.”
“Sounds like a good deal to me.”
“So you agree then?”
“Sure. No eating. I promise.”
She reached for the knob but stopped short of touching it.
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t. And I’ll admit I’m not trustworthy. I did promise not to eat all the others. And I really meant it when I said it. But it just sort of happens. Not always though. There was this Spanish guy who I didn’t eat. Good guy, too. Lot of fun. I miss him.”
“What made him different?”
“He had the stuff.”
“You know what I’m talking about. The stuff. The goods. The mojo.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means what it means,” said Vom. “When someone has the stuff, you just know it.”
“That’s not very helpful at all.”
“There are mysteries beyond even my ken. Listen. I’ve done this plenty of times. I know how this game goes. Some people open the closet right away. Others hold out for a while. One guy made it a whole century. But you are going to open this door one day. So why don’t we just cut the suspense and jump to the inevitable conclusion?”
Diana wanted to argue, but if what West and Vom had told her was true, then it really was unavoidable. The question wasn’t if she would open the closet. The question was when.
It took her four days to get bored enough to think about finally opening the door. Four days of watching television, of staring at the ticks of the clock, of obsessively searching every nook and cranny of the apartment for some form of escape, of waiting for the phone to ring and for West to tell her that he’d changed his mind and she was free to go.
No one would be coming for her because no one knew she was here. If she was going to get out she’d have to do it herself. And four days of steady rumination on the subject always led back to that damn closet.
She went to the refrigerator and demanded another turkey sandwich. Then another. Then another. Then she stopped thinking small and demanded a turkey. Then she just started demanding “Food” and left it up to the refrigerator to supply whatever it felt like. She piled the sandwiches and turkeys and cakes and hamburgers and buckets of apples and haggis and everything else in the living room. When she ran out of room on the coffee table she started putting stuff on the floor. She threw everything in a huge messy heap. She didn’t stop until the mound of food filled half the room and was nearly to the ceiling.
She didn’t know if it would be enough to satisfy his appetite, but she was already tired of waiting. She wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life in this cage, dreading the inevitable. Better to just get it over with.
She threw open the closet door.
Bright green fur covered Vom the Hungering. His flat, wide head had no eyes or ears or nose. Just one huge mouth. Another maw split his potbelly. He was simultaneously lanky and pudgy. Her first instinct was that he was an old puppet, rejected from Sesame Street and banished to a limbo alongside moldy raincoats and wingtip shoes. It was only when he lurched toward her, both of his mouths licking their lips, arms raised, that she realized he was alive.
She smacked him across the head with a rolled-up magazine.
“No!” She scolded him gently, but firmly.
Vom snarled and reached toward her again.
“No!” She hit him again. “Not for you!”
He frowned, rubbing his snout.
She pointed at the pile of food. “That’s yours.”
Vom pounced on the meal, gleefully shoving down everything. She was revolted and hypnotized by the sight and watched him gorge himself for several minutes. He wasn’t slowing down, and she doubted he would be full once he finished—in another two or three minutes at most.
The front door was back. She tiptoed out into the hall and shut the door quietly behind her.
The puppy in front of Number Two wasn’t a puppy anymore. It was something else. Something vaguely puppyshaped, but with a malformed skull, giant black eyes, and a sucker-like mouth.
The creature looked up at her with its three huge eyes, wagged the tentacle sticking out of its backside, and whimpered.
Diana waited until she had slunk past the hideous creature before she ran screaming into the streets.
She stopped shrieking after a minute.
It wasn’t the crazy looks she drew from the other pedestrians that made her stop. And her damaged sanity hadn’t managed to repair itself. She’d left something behind in that apartment. Something she’d always taken for granted. Faith in a rational world. It was like a tiny cog had been removed from her brain, and all the gears were still working, but a slight wobble was slowly and inevitably stripping the teeth until one day, without warning, the Rube Goldberg device that was her mind would fall apart with a loud sproing.
No, she eventually stopped screaming because she discovered that running and freaking out at the same time was exhausting. She doubted even an Olympic athlete could do it for very long. Also, she got stuck at a crosswalk, and it was hard to keep the momentum while standing there waiting for the light to change.
She sat on a bench and caught her breath. A glance back the way she’d come showed neither Vom nor West following her. She’d escaped. Too bad she’d lost her stuff, but there was no way she was going back for it. Her first thought was that it was just more crappy luck, but then she remembered that she’d avoided being trapped for eternity or being eaten by a gangly furry monster and decided it was the opposite. Things were starting to turn around. If she could escape unhurt from Vom the Hungering, everything else should be easy.
Leaning back on the bench, she exhaled a sigh of relief.
The early evening sky was torn in pieces.
Six slashes ran across it. They pulsed with a strange yellow glow. The weirdest thing was that the slashes didn’t seem to be behind the stars, but on top of them. It was as if some gigantic monster had raked the fabric of the universe itself. And the universe had healed, but the scars remained.
The full moon appeared normal. But on the other side of the sky was another moon. The orb was sickly greenish. It writhed. It was covered in bright red eyes. The thing undulated, and she glimpsed a maw filled with rows of teeth.
She’d escaped the apartment, but she was still in the trap. The cage was just bigger. She’d seen enough Twilight Zone episodes to know a cosmic screw when she was in the middle of it.
She stood, carelessly bumping into a tall, angular man in a black trench coat. His face wasn’t human, but insectile. Her first instinct was to cower or flee. But that was what they wanted her to do. And she wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction. She pushed forth the most sincere smile she could manage while staring into the bug’s six hundred eyes.
“Pardon me, sir.”
The bug clicked its mandibles.
“No problem, miss.”
It walked up to the curb, spread its coat, and soared away. Diana dug her claws into her fractured sanity and refused to let it go. Even as she noticed that one of the cars driving down the street was an SUV-sized crimson slug and that the hot dog vendor on the corner was a monster in an apron with a paper hat on his squid-like head, she convinced herself, through sheer force of will, that there was nothing to be concerned about. She didn’t know if that meant she would be okay or if she’d just lost her mind. All she knew was that she wasn’t gibbering, and she’d take whatever small victory she could manage.
A hairy hand grabbed her shoulder. “Hey, there you are.”
Diana turned to the toothy jaws of Vom the Hungering.
“No!” she shouted forcefully as she punched him in the nose. Or at least the area of his mostly featureless face above his mouth.
“Ow.” Vom rubbed his head. “Why’d you do that?”
“You were going to eat me.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
His stomach rumbled, causing the earth beneath the concrete beneath their feet to tremble. He smiled sheepishly.
“Okay, maybe I was thinking about it.”
“This is bullshit,” she said. “I let you out of the closet. You were supposed to either eat me or let me go.”
Vom shrugged. “Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules. Oh, hot dog.” He lumbered over to the cart on his stumpy legs. “One foot-long, please. Extra everything.”
The squiddy vendor asked, “You got any money?”
“What? I’m good for it.”
The vendor wiggled his tentacles and folded his floppy arms across his chest.
“Hey, could you loan me a couple of bucks?” Vom asked Diana.
She duplicated the vendor’s stance.
“Oh, fine. I must’ve eaten someone with a wallet at some point.” He opened his mouth and reached down his own throat. He spit out a variety of random objects: an old lipstick, a dog collar, a license plate, some buttons, and something small and squirmy that was apparently still alive.
Vom extracted a pair of wrinkled blue jeans from his bigger mouth. He rifled through the pockets and found a few dollars and some change. Enough to purchase two hot dogs. The sticky drool covering the cash didn’t bother the slimy vendor beast, who started working on Vom’s dogs. While waiting, Vom shoved the regurgitated items back into his mouths. Including the squirming thing.
“Don’t skimp on the sauerkraut.”
The vendor gave Vom the dogs. He offered one to Diana. She turned it down with a queasy twinge.
He swallowed the hot dogs in one gulp.
“You have something.” She pointed to the mustard-stained pant leg snagged on one of his fangs. “Right there.”
He slurped down the denim like a stray noodle.
They walked through the park, and Vom tried to explain what was happening. Normally she wouldn’t have been caught walking through a park alone after dark, but she figured that the ravenous creature beside her would discourage even the most determined mugger. Or not.
Nobody seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The giant bugs and slugs and misshapen things lurching on the city streets. Or the tears in the sky. Or the monstrous moon god. All these things remained unobserved by everyone else.
“Imagine the universe as a tesseract, a single multidimensional hypercube divided into thin, mostly self-contained slices. Now this model is, by its nature, flawed and incomplete. Mostly because each entity perceives its own slice to be the most important, simply from a lack of ability to perceive the other aspects of the complete universe which surrounds them. With me so far?”
He sighed. “This’d be easier if you had some experience with multidimensional geometric theory.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t. Didn’t think it would be important. And I don’t think they even offered it at the college I attended.”
Excerpted from Chasing the Moon by Martinez, A. Lee Copyright © 2011 by Martinez, A. Lee. Excerpted by permission.
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