The 13th by John Everson

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The 13th


By John Everson

 

Prologue
25 Years Ago

 

The room would have felt closed in and dark... if not for the Christmas lights. They trailed in long sparkly strands across the shadows, white globes illuminating the horror on the floor like gently oscillating spotlights. They would have been cozy warm... if not for the hell they revealed. Some of those long white globes were speckled in dark spots. And some of those spots were clearly, nauseatingly, crimson.

     Beneath those swaying holiday orbs ran drying rivers of stagnant red.

     “Oh my God,” breathed the officer on duty, just before turning his mouth to the side and retching into the darkness. Maitlin was young, only a few months on the force in Castle Point. Up to now, the most disturbing thing he’d probably witnessed was the diaper of a newborn. His horror at the current scene was audible in the quiet room... and the gagging smell of his fear melded with the raw iron stench of blood that soured the room.

     The captain choked back his own disgust, but soldiered on, urging Officer Maitlin to follow. “There may be survivors,” he said, though his voice did not sound hopeful.

     “Of this?” the rookie gasped, looking up from the shadow of his weakness.

     “No matter how bad it looks,” the Chief said, “there is always someone left.”

     Just then, Maitlin’s toe stopped dead on the rebound from something soft. Something spongy.

     He bent down, and in complete disbelief, reached down to retrieve the object of his toestop. 

     The captain’s eyes bugged out as Officer Maitlin lifted the disembodied limb from the red goo of the floor like a soiled party favor.

     “Do you think so?” the rookie asked, brandishing a stiff arm in his grip. He pointed the gory piece where a shoulder should have been at the face of his boss. From another vantage point, it might have looked as if he were shaking hands with the corporeal appendage of the air. The tips of glossy, long red fingernails seemed to grip his wrist.

     “No sir,” Officer Maitlin said, his voice filled with the hysteria of “last straw.”

     The captain looked at the severed arm for a moment in the shadows of the hotel basement and shook his head slowly.

     “Yeah,” he said. “Me either. Let’s get out of here.”

     But just as the two turned to leave, a moan came from behind.

     “Oh shit,” the captain mumbled, and turned towards the sound. The corridor in the back of the room was pitch black; they hadn’t investigated what charnel secrets lay behind the veil of darkness there. They really, really didn’t want to. But they couldn’t ignore a victim in pain.

     Officer Maitlin’s hand slid to the holster and his fingers toyed with his gun. He’d never used it, except in target practice at the academy. But he was ready to now. They’d gotten the anonymous telephone tip that people had been butchered at the old hotel an hour ago. Nothing could have prepared them for what they’d found when they’d walked through the half-open front door of the building.

     The moan came again, and the captain motioned him to follow. He fingered a cigarette lighter and held it in the air to light the way. The feeble light flickered off surfaces that seemed to ooze with wetness. Maitlin thought it looked red in the orange glow of the flame. But he didn’t dare lean in closer to see if his supposition as to its nature was true. He’d seen enough in the long basement room.

     “This place is a slaughterhouse,” he breathed.

     At his words the moans grew louder, and the captain suddenly dropped to his knees.

     The source of the moans lay on the floor, naked and crumpled against the wall. Maitlin saw the whites of her eyes before anything else; they were staring in terror at something just beyond his left shoulder. As he joined the captain, she shuddered, and the red glistening mess that had once been her belly opened wider. Too wide.

     The rookie turned away, his gorge rising as the woman’s insides turned out.

     “Who are you?” the captain whispered, putting a calming hand on her forehead. His fingers stuck to the drying blood in her long matted hair.

     The dying woman’s eyes flickered, and for just a second, focused on the captain’s sympathetic face.

     “The 12th,” she whispered, and then her eyes went wide once more.

     This time, they didn’t close again.