It was two in the morning. My ashtray was full, overflowing in fact and I was staring at it, watching the half finished and scrunched up butts transform into hideous looking little monsters whispering to me about my putrid lungs and the violence being done to my arteries.
It was very quiet, so quiet that the silence was a distraction. My desk was covered with coffee stains and dirt and ash, begging to be cleaned for the first time in months. This book was going to be the death of me. I only slept when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and only ate when faint with hunger. Raising a half empty glass to my lips I savoured the bite of cheap whiskey, before returning to the manuscript.
Out of the shadows squeezed a thick fluorescent paste which explored and infiltrated every crack in the wall and every hole in the ground, as it made its way towards the pile of fetid carcasses in the centre of the yard. Alarms were sounding and workers were running from the plant, stumbling and staggering, gagging on the fumes spewing from the leaking reactor.
Duke Porter arrived at the gates of the lower yard as darkness descended on the Blackwater Industrial Complex. Flashing his badge, he walked up the driveway and bellowed at anyone who blocked his path or looked like they weren’t doing anything useful, to get the hell out of his way and let him do his damned job. Carefully he reached out to touch the gate.
‘Don’t touch that! It’s burning hot!’
Duke quickly pulled his hand away as though bitten by a snake.
A stabbing sensation in my hand caused me to stop typing, and withdraw from the keyboard slowly, like reluctantly releasing a loved one from an embrace. I felt hot. Drinking again from the dirty glass, I read over the last two paragraphs. In the corner of my eye, I saw something glowing, but when I turned to look at it directly, there was nothing. Rubbing my eyes, I stood and walked to the bathroom. I felt really hot, uncomfortably hot so I ripped my shirt off and tossed it on the floor in the hallway.
As I splashed cold water on my face, I thought about Duke Porter, and how much I loved and admired him. He was everything I wanted to be, and simultaneously everything I knew I would never be. My hero and my best friend.
A lethal stink penetrated my nostrils while I was standing staring at my dripping, haggard face in the mirror, but the alarm I felt at first passed quickly when I realised it was emanating from the pile of sweat laden clothing on the bathroom floor.
No longer feeling unnaturally heated, I returned to the office, listening to the whispering trees as they brushed the windows, gently rocked by a cool breeze. The curtain fluttered over the desk flicking the upper layer of cigarette butts from the ashtray onto the floor. For a moment I thought I saw the glowing again but I relegated it to imagination and determined to return to the book.
Duke Porter apologised in his gruff and insincere way before ordering the plant worker who had saved him from considerable pain to get away from the gates because they were dangerously hot.
Grabbing a stick from the ground, He pushed it against the gate which to his surprise yielded instantly and swung inwards to reveal an apocalyptic scene. Amidst flashing lights and blaring sirens smoke poured from countless infernos and Porter felt bile rising in the back of his throat at the sight of the ragged and disfigured carcasses in the centre of it all. It looked like a ball of twine except this string was limp and rotting body parts. Dogs mainly, but a few cats and as he looked more closely, more than a few pigs. The luminescent paste poured through every gap between the bits and pieces of dead animals and filled all their orifices, lighting them from inside, weirdly like a Halloween pumpkin.
Again I saw the glow, but this time I refused to ignore it. Wait a minute, I thought, I am seeing what I am writing. Despite assuring myself thus, I still walked slowly to the corner of the room where I had seen the light. The room was dark apart from the focused beam which illuminated my desk, and a faint gleam floating wearily through the window from the streetlight out front of my house.
‘Pigs,’ I said aloud. ‘Zombie pigs.’ As I examined the wall, I realised I was alone and talking to it as if it were my trusted friend. Had I been talking out loud all night? There was nobody here to tell me whether I had or not, and I could not remember. I peered intently at the wall, pushing my face closer and closer to it. It stunk of dirty laundry too.
‘Okay,’ I said to the wall. ‘I can talk to myself if I want to. What’s wrong with that? It’s actually a mark of incredible and indisputable genius. But where was I…ah yes, writing a horror masterpiece. Duke Porter and the Zombie Pigs.’
The breeze kicked up into a wind which sent the curtain flapping over the desk again so reluctantly I shut the window, and lit another cigarette. I was getting hot again.
The Duke stood dumbfounded before the open gate, unable to move a muscle. Others gathered behind him to watch the fantastic spectacle of decaying carcasses reanimating. The paste was somehow reviving them. Gradually the twisted ball of flesh began to unravel as one mutilated animal after another disengaged itself from the mass and stood groggily on their paws. Porter and the other onlookers were frozen in horrible disbelief.
After some time I realised I was sitting motionless. Shirtless and sweating. Dry mouthed and confused. I looked at my hand and saw the cigarette had burned right down to the butt as it lay unsmoked between my yellow stained index and middle fingers. A glow from the corner was accompanied by a fresh wave of dank bathroom odours. Or was there something else in here? Yes, a rotting smell. A childhood memory of a rat which my dad had trapped and killed under my bed without knowing it, confirmed it.
I didn’t realise immediately that my glass was empty even though I drank from it. ‘I’m pretending to drink,’ I said to the wall. Then I waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming, I continued, ‘I am delirious. I need a drink of water and something to eat.’
An angry gust of wind whistled through the cracks of my house, and the office door slammed shut. I jumped. I could see Duke Porter walking slowly towards the gate of the incinerator yard, but his face kept changing. First himself, the imagined likeness of Brad Pitt, then me, the antithesis of him, then a pig’s face. I was moving towards the door, so slowly that I might have needed an hour to cover the five steps needed to reach it. When I finally arrived, it was locked from the outside.
Stupefied by alcohol and sleep deprivation, I had not, up to this point in time, considered seriously what might be happening to me. As I wrenched and ripped at the door handle with both hands fortified by panic, I cried out for help. An over reaction? Couldn’t I have easily slipped out the window? Guilty on two counts but as I said, I was freaking out!
I spun around to look at the computer screen and watched the words I had written dance on the screen, fading in and out, and my head began to feel like the only part of my body still functioning. But it was heavy and caused me to lose my balance. I heard glass shattering and felt pain, sharp and cruel in my stomach and my arm before I lost consciousness.
Duke Porter shook off his fear like sand from a beach towel as he steeled himself with the resolve of a superhero. He commanded all the stunned bystanders to leave immediately, assuring them that he, Duke Porter, had everything under control. At that moment he felt invincible. Although he had no plan, his heart swelled with the courage of a pride of lions as he stepped forward towards the mob of four-footed living dead. Picking up an iron bar he had spotted on the ground, Porter began to beat his left palm with the weapon and threaten the zombie animals with death should they attempt to pass him. For a moment neither Duke nor the animals moved so he kept on drumming his palm with the rod of iron, and swearing insults at the evil creatures.
Suddenly I stopped typing and looked at my hands, they hurt, especially the left one and my palms were all cut open. Blood covered the keyboard and the desk, and my glass was empty again. I screamed in pain, fright and frustration as I tried to remember what had happened to me. Wasn’t I on the floor a second ago? I could not even recall what I was writing about anymore. The door! The door was locked from the outside. I was trapped. I panicked, then I fell. The window! I cursed myself for not thinking of the window before. Rushing to the window, I told the wall how happy I was to be free, to be alive.
Half way through however, I lost heart. I had totally forgotten that somebody must have locked me in the office, and that somebody was possibly still in my house. I am ashamed to say that at that crucial moment my courage failed, and I retreated back inside the office to consider my position. The mixed stench of body odour, wet towels and rotting flesh was so thick in the air that I gagged on it every time I took a breath. I lit a cigarette, sat on the floor and listened. At first there was only heavy silence which brought me tremendous relief, but then a heard a sound. An unexpected sound coming from just outside the office door. I crawled along the floor to get closer to the door and as I did the unmistakeable sound of snorting filled my ears with a new kind of terror. A flashback again to my childhood where I was surrounded by grunting porkers, covered in mud, slipping and sliding, desperate to escape their stench while in the background I could hear my brothers laughing. I hated pigs!
It was then, in an instant of miraculous clarity that I realised I was writing my own worst nightmare. A light came on, its beam fingering its way under the door, and the animal sounds disappeared. Again I listened. Cowering, rigid with fear. Light began to break into my office cautiously as though not wanting to disturb me but I was already extremely disturbed.
Magically the increasing light infused me with some courage, and after smoking another cigarette with insane alacrity, I edged closer to the door, and stretched out my trembling hand towards the handle. Still locked. I heard a strangely familiar voice. Mum?
I called out, ‘Mum? Mum, is that you?’
Footsteps, the handle turning, her voice clear and concerned. ‘Are you all right, dear?’
The best way to describe my answer was incoherent babble. I mentioned the lights, the pigs, the heat, the smell, the blood, and the locked door in a continuous verbal stream which could not have made any sense to her. The look on face said as much.
‘Did you say the door was locked?’ she asked. ‘It wasn’t locked. I opened it straight up.’
I jumped and grabbed for the security of my mother’s embrace. ‘What was that?’
She pushed me away gently and looked me in the eye. ‘Something fell…probably the broom I was using. I stood it against the wall when I heard you calling. What’s wrong with you?’
‘A broom?’ I said incredulous. ‘That wasn’t a broom, mum.’
She turned and walked away but before I could ask where she was going, she bent down and picked up a broom off the floor. When she turned, I screamed. Her face was a pig’s face, framed in her hair. I spun on my heels, skating on the slippery tiles, and flung myself back into the office slamming the door shut behind me. Picking myself up off the floor, I noticed the computer screen was still on, the screen saver apparently not functioning. I read the last words I had written as though they had been written by somebody else.
The rotting mangy animal zombies eased confidently towards Duke as he stood defiantly between them and the gate. They barked and yowled and grunted menacingly as they advanced. Porter swung at the first of the pigs and his rod of iron connected with its head instantly dissolving it in a splash of green paste. Too easy, thought Duke. Even as the animals began to surround him, increasing their numbers, he was confident he could dispatch the whole hellish horde back to the cesspool abyss from which they had sprung. Duke Porter felt no fear.
I suddenly remembered the satanic beast which had impersonated my mother waiting on the other side of the door. Waiting? Why? I had not locked the door. I hesitated. Duke Porter felt no fear. I created him, I feel no fear, I told myself, but still I sat; a heartless statue.
The office door opened, I felt the light on my back but I did not turn around. I was ready to die, and this realisation relaxed me. Shoulders unhunched, heartbeat slowing, breathing quite normally, I prepared myself for death.
‘What have you done to this room? Mandy’s only been gone for two days and you’ve turned the house into a pig sty. Boy, am I glad I decided to come over and see how you were doing. Badly, apparently. What is that smell? Is that you?’
Mum kept on yabbering as I turned very slowly to face her. I still expected a pig’s face to greet me, but was relieved to discover nothing but an angry and disappointed scowl on my mother’s face. Sheepishly, I listened as she ranted and raved, criticising me for this and that, berating me for my lack of self respect, lambasting my laziness.
She wanted me to wash and help her clean up but I protested that I needed to finish the chapter I was working on. I yielded to her undeniably authority when she said I would not write one more word until I smelled and looked like a human being instead of a pig.
‘Mum,’ I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you say but can you please stop talking about pigs. I hate pigs!’
Bio: D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works part time as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had 19 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) Devolution was his first novel and novel no.2 is currently seeking an agent or a publisher. Anyone interested?