The following is an extract from Tales of Sin: The Mercenaries’ Tale, a story that is currently a work-in-progress. The story takes place in a science-fiction setting so please excuse any terms that may seem oddly out of place in this story that could otherwise take place in our world, or in your own street, even.

Sheriff Grady chewed the end of his cigar thoughtfully while he waited for his young deputy to finish vomiting in the next room. He tutted as he realised there was blood on his new crocodile-skin shoes.

There was a lot of blood. The room was drenched in it. He reckoned that, in his own limited knowledge of spreading viscous liquids, he would only be able to replicate the thorough coverage himself with a paintbrush and about five large tins of paint. The murderer probably hadn’t used a paintbrush though, he reasoned. They had creatively dismembered the entire family and hung their entrails around the room like meaty Faustmas decorations. The room stank of the thick, oppressive scent of bodily iron from all the blood overlaid with the sour rank stench of the decay of flesh.

The Sheriff was snapped out of his ruminations and his thousand-yard stare at the living room by his deputy returning from the dining room, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

“Sorree Sherriff,” gasped Deputy Trundell, “ah ain’t nevah seen so much blood before.”

“I have,” grunted the Sheriff in reply.

“Ya’ll want me to call in for some backup? Ah don’t even know where to start with all this.”

“Well don’t ask me,” said the man carefully tip-toeing down the stairs to avoid contaminating too much of the crime scene and failing because the crime scene was spread all over the staircase, too. He was the district’s only crime scene forensics detective, dressed in a cheap clean suit and dust mask and doing the best job he could armed with a small toolbox of DIY forensic supplies and an old tablet computer. His name badge read ‘Rawley Murtaugh’ and had a little picture of him not wearing a clean suit or mask accompanied with ‘CSDF’ in big capitals, representing ‘Crime Scene Forensic Detective’.

“This, I reckon,” continued Rawley, “will take me a month of Sundays to process. I’ll certainly need to call for help from another district, like fuck am I getting shafted with all this.”

“What’s it look like upstairs?” asked the Sheriff, not giving a damn about the workload of his colleague. The forensic detective shrugged.

“More of the same. There’s nobody up there. While there’s signs of entry there’s no obvious signs of an exit – footprints, scuff marks, anything like that.”

“You’ve got some gore on you, son,” remarked the Sheriff. A fat blob of brown ooze had dripped from the wall on to the vinyl of Rawley’s clean suit, on to his shoulder. As the CSFD poked at it with a gloved finger, the deputy suppressed a guttural burp as his stomach did another turn and churned again.

“You have any idea what could have did this?” asked Rawley.

“What did it?” echoed the Deputy, confused. “Not who?”

“I don’t think even your most crazed psychopaths are capable of mincing an entire family and spreading them over an entire house like meat spread and blood jam.”

The Sheriff snipped off the end of his cigar with his cutter and tucked the nub of un-smoked tobacco behind his ear. He gestured for his young subordinate and the CSFD to come to him, pulling the men back into the dining room and leaning in conspiratorially.

“Boys, what do you know about urban legends?” said the old Sheriff, deadly serious as he levelled his eyes at the Deputy and then the forensics guy.

“Ah reckin’ ah know a few!” beamed Trundell.

“What do you know about Johnny Carnivàle?” asked the Sheriff. The Deputy immediately guffawed and slapped his knee.

“Aw shucks, Sherriff, ahm a simple guy but ah ain’t stoopid! Tha’s just a horror story kids tell each other.”

The Deputy was aware that the CSFD was suddenly looking a little bit twitchy.

“Is it?” the science man asked.

“Well…yeah. Right?” replied the Deputy, suddenly unsure himself.

“Unfortunately boys,” said the Sherriff, “ah reckin’ we’re standin’ in his handiwork right now.”

“I’ve heard stories,” said Rawley. “I thought he’d moved to the City of Light and was taking contracts from mob bosses.”

“He did,” said the Sheriff, “but it looks like he’s back.”

“How do you know all this, Sheriff?” asked the Deputy, his whole understanding of urban legends being shattered like the bones decorating the room.

“And what do you mean, ‘back’?” added the CSDF. “I didn’t know he left! I mean, I didn’t know he was here, of all places.”

The Sheriff sighed and scratched his chin.

“Our lil’ town has a dark secret, boys. Ol’ Johnny is as real as you an’ me, and more to the point he grew up here. This is his hometown.”

The deputy had an overwhelming urge in his gut to investigate moving to another town, maybe even another continent. Rawley was pondering something similar regarding relocating his work to a district on another continent, preferably on another planet.

Johnny Carnivàle was the man who stabs you in that dark alley you stupidly decide to take a short-cut down, but instead of taking your wallet he’d be more likely to take your face. Johnny Carnivàle was the reason people go missing and then a few months later you might find a stray shoe on the side of the road or a human liver at the bottom of a well. Johnny Carnivàle was the psychopath other psychopaths tell each other horror stories about. Johnny Carnivàle was that creaking floorboard in the middle of the night and the tiny but alarming noise coming from under your bed.

He was the very definition of an urban legend. The worst part about all was, as the Deputy had just learned, he was apparently very real.

“Fuck this noise,” cursed the CSDF, “I’m going to call this into someone else, let them deal with it. I don’t want to be anywhere near this crime scene.”

As Rawley reached for his toolbag with intentions of bolting for the door, the Sheriff held out his hand to stop him. He was looking around at the walls and at the ceiling above.

“Hold your horses,” he said, “didn’t you say that there weren’t any signs of an exit?”

“Er, yeah,” replied the CSDF dumbly, caught mid-intention of leaving. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

Realisation slowly crept in. If Johnny had entered through the front door and hadn’t obviously left via any of the doors, then that heavily implied that he was still inside the house. The Sheriff had latched on to this notion quicker than the other two, who suddenly felt like they weren’t alone.

Backing away from the picture of carnage in the living room, the Sheriff waved for the other two to follow him as he hurried out the front door and down the steps. They hastily followed.

Outside, the Sheriff eyed the house, pacing back and forth with his hands on his hips. The cigar was back in his mouth and he puffed nervously.

“What’s the plan, Sheriff Grady?” asked the Deputy.

“The plan, boys, is I’m gonna get back in my car and go home,” said the Sheriff, matter-of-factly.

“I’m down with that,” agreed the CSDF, “but shouldn’t we do something about this first?” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the house behind him. “I mean, I should really call someone-”

“If I was a hero, boys,” interrupted the Sheriff, “I’d tell one o’ you to go fetch about six or seven cans of gasoline and we’d set fire to this dump and stay until the last few ashes settled. But I’m not a hero, and I’m not gonna risk doing that because otherwise…”

The Sheriff tailed off, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the house. He didn’t want to tell the other two, but he kept expecting to see a tall silhouette standing in the doorway watching them.

“I can see it now,” he continued, “I’d hear somethin’ in the middle of the night and I’d look up an’ at the end of the bed he’s goin’ ta be standin’ there, slightly blackened from the fire an’ holdin’ a knife an’ lookin’ mighty happy to see me. That look in his eyes…”

He shook his head and toked on his cigar, exhaling a big cloud of smoke.

“Nope, what ahm gonna do is check the back of mah car, an’ underneath it, an’ in the boot to make sure that son of a bitch ain’t hitchin’ a ride and then I’m gonna go home and forget I even saw this place.”

The Sheriff began to walk towards his car, parked by the roadside several feet away. He paused and turned to address the other two.

“If the pair of you’ve got any sense, you’re gonna do the same. Otherwise, in about six weeks they’ll find what’s left of you spread over yer lounge just like in there.”

The Sheriff checked over his car as he said he would and, satisfied that it didn’t contain any murderous passengers, heaved himself into the driver’s seat, driving off without another word.

The remaining two watched him drive off, then at each other, at the house and then each other again. Rawley the CSDF broke the silence.

“Er…I think I’ll pop by the hardware shop on my way home…pick up some new locks,” he said, numbed from the events of the last five minutes.

“I’ll prob’ly see you there, pal,” replied the Deputy.

Both parties headed to their respective vehicles. They weren’t running to their cars but the pace of their walking implied a sense of haste, of the desire to be somewhere else right now. They departed the scene, leaving the wooden house alone on the dirt road with no intention of ever coming back.

From between a crack in the wooden boards that comprised the ceiling of the bloodied living room, a frantic eye twitched back and forth, its pupil a pin-prick of darkness surrounded by red blood vessels. It disappeared into the darkness of the ceiling, having seen enough.

The Eye

Several minutes later, a lone figure emerged from the house and stood on the porch, staring rigidly into the distance. Most people would look around for signs of life, maybe lean against the porch balcony while considering their next move. This figure just stood rigid, head locked forward.

A dirty blue trenchcoat with stained grey trousers that didn’t quite cover the legs of their tall, skinny owner. A pair of shoes designed to be smart office attire dirtied and scuffed by a wearer using them beyond their intended purpose, topped with a pair of socks that didn’t belong together; a grey sock that might have once been brilliant white and a striped sock in red and black. A white shirt masquerading as a grey one to match the one ‘white’ sock with a blue and white striped silk tie. Matted, medium-length black hair with a semblance of a centre parting. A vinyl face mask not dissimilar from a surgeon’s mask, but this one was smeared with patches of colour.

Johnny Carnivàle knew that all three men who were at the crime scene would die.

It wasn’t a decision or a belief that they had to die, Johnny just took these things as unavoidable facts, as concrete as the laws of physics. All three men would definitely die, it was just a case of when. Luckily his schedule was empty for the foreseeable future. The sheriff was old and fat, he wouldn’t be difficult to track down, neither would his simpleton deputy. The science man in the clean suit could possibly be a little bit trickier-

Johnny paused to pounce on a sheaf of paper rustling across the dusty floor caught on the wind, leaping from the top step of the porch and pinning it under both his feet like an excitable toddler or a playful cat. It was a wanted poster, presumably dropped by the sheriff or the deputy in their hasty getaway. Or maybe it had coincidentally drifted on the wind for miles from places unknown. Either way, this was destiny.

Johnny stared unblinkingly at the poster trapped under his feet. From between his shoes a friendly, familiar face grinned back. The face had a scar across its nose.

The man on the poster would die. It had to happen. The difficult part was deciding whether his death took precedent over the other three.

Johnny grabbed the paper from beneath his shoes and stuffed it into his coat pocket. From the other pocket he extracted a kitchen knife stained orange, brown and red with blood. It was still a little bit sticky in places. He looked it over as a cat would a fish in a tank, nodded to himself, and replaced the blade into his coat. From the pocket containing the poster he pulled out a black marker pen. Popping off the lid, he began to draw on to his vinyl face mask. He drew a big contented smile, no teeth on show. It evoked the trembly, wavy smiles that toddlers draw when they try and draw faces; clumsy but carefree.

Johnny by Sam Dyer-Payne.

The pen disappeared back into his coat. Johnny began the long walk down the dusty, empty road, his walk a slightly lopsided gait and his head bobbing enthusiastically.

* * *

Sheriff Grady was not a natural sleeper; his usual night consisted of tossing and turning, the occasional numb arm he’d have to shake back to life due to sleeping awkwardly and staring at the wall while his wife’s snores cut through the silence of the bedroom like a rusty saw through old, cracking wood.

Tonight was a good night, however. His wife was unusually quiet in her contented puffs of breathing and there was a coldness to the air. He’d threatened for years to retire to somewhere cold as the arid desert air was a climate that jarred almost every single aspect of his being. Still, a good night for Grady still consisted of bursts of light sleep, dozing on his back.

He’d also come around to the idea that maybe Johnny Carnivàle wasn’t going to visit him in the middle of the night. It has been over two months since he’d ran from that house filled with blood and nightmares, and for a week after he’d slept with a shotgun next to the bed, barely getting much sleep at all.

When he heard the creak from out in the hallway, he’d put it down to the walls or a radiator creaking. When the sound came again a few minutes later, he also ignored it. It was the fifth time it stirred him from his dozing that he began to try and visualise where the sound was coming from.

“Can you hear that?” he grunted out loud. His wife didn’t respond, fast asleep, cooing softly.

With one eye half-open, he scanned the room. The sound was definitely coming from the room. In fact, with a surging and horrible realisation, he was almost certain that it was coming from very close by.

It was coming from under the bed.

Despite having not thought of the terrible Carnivàle for weeks, those horrible gut-wrenching thoughts came speeding back to the forefront of his mind like a runaway freight train. He did keep a revolver on his bedside table, and his hand carefully reached out for it now. Grabbing the butt of the gun, he mentally thought through the next step – stepping out of the bed was out of the question, as he could already visualise a hand grabbing him at the ankle and pulling him under, or a knife stabbing him in his heel or slicing his ankle.

With a clumsiness brought about by age and bad eating, he rolled out of the bed on to the floor and pointed the revolver under the bed. Johnny wasn’t there. There was something there, which he wasn’t ready for.

The family cat – a scrawny calico his wife had picked up from an animal shelter a few months back – was lying underneath the bed, batting at something lying rigid in front of her. Closer inspection revealed the object to be a mouse the cat had stunned in its efforts to prove herself a capable hunter. The cat was now prodding the poor creature in an attempt to revive it so she could resume chasing it around the underside of the bed.

Grady lowered his gun, chuckled and swore under his breath. It wasn’t too much of a leap to call the cat a killer considering what she did to every small, furry or feathery creature that entered her domain, also known as the backyard. She was -thankfully- no Carnivàle.

Once calmed down enough, Grady reached over and swiped the mouse away from the pet. The cat mewed in annoyance, Grady ignoring her. He knew what would happen if he let her keep the thing; she would get bored, leave it alone and it would wake up and make a home in one of his shoes. Again. It was a better idea to release it outdoors from whence it came.

He sleepily made his way downstairs, letting his mind wonder as he carefully tread through the darkened house. The cat – Patches being what his wife had deemed to call the thing – was a nuisance but she made his wife happy. She had retired from a long and somewhat illustrious career as a teacher at the local highschool. She had spent so much of her life dealing with moody adolescents that when she found herself old enough to retire, she soon found herself feeling lonely. Grady still had to work – retirement being another two years away for him – so he wasn’t yet able to keep her company during those long, lazy days. She had decided to fill the void by buying the pet equivalent of a moody adolescent. It was funny in many ways; you could spend your whole life moaning about the what you need to put up with in order to get by, only to horribly miss those inconveniences once you’re given a chance to escape…

As Grady entered the kitchen, his bare foot landed in something wet. His first thought was that Patches, the little darling, had once again failed to locate the litter box and had decided to leave a present to mark the occasion. Flipping the lights on revealed the little wet patch to be red. Blood red. There were more little red patches of fluid dotted along the kitchen floor, leading up to the cat flap.

Grady frowned. Had something come through here bleeding? The way the splotches fell across the laminate flooring suggested something dripping as it travelled across the room. Had Patches been fighting? She hadn’t looked hurt upstairs… It wasn’t unusual for raccoons to scrabble through cat flaps around here. Maybe one had gotten in, fought the cat and was sent back outside to lick its wounds? Or maybe the cat had brought in a large injured mouse?

The sheriff tentatively approached the back door, unlocked the bolts and grabbed a torch. The door opened with a creak, the hinges desperately in need of oiling. Taking a deep breath, Grady stepped out into the dark.

It wasn’t a particularly big garden. The Gradys weren’t blessed with green thumbs, everything they planted sooner or later wilting due to neglect. That wasn’t to say they hadn’t tried to make the place feel like a nice place to be in the summer. Ancient patio furniture stood close to the back door, casting shadows in the moonlight. A neglected sprinkler system snaked through the dried grass, giving the impression of dark tendrils reaching out from the shadows. An elm tree grew at the foot of the garden. It had once been a source of joy, Grady having hooked a tyre swing up to the lower branches for his children to play on long ago, before they outgrew the rickety little house.

Now something else was hanging in the tree.

Grady dropped his torch when he laid eyes on it. A body, freshly flayed, was tied spread-eagled in the branches. Blood was steadily dripping from the exposed musculature, a rhythmic pat, pat, patting gracing the air as the bodily fluids hit the thirsty grass below. The tree itself looked as if someone had tp-ed it. Strips of human skin wove between the leafs of the tree like webbing, blowing in the breeze. The stomach of the victim had been sliced open, intestinal track hanging out for the world to see.

It was impossible to tell at a glance who this person had once been, all distinguishing features having been stripped away. A neighbour maybe? Some poor jogger passing through the wrong street on the wrong night? A kidnap victim brought here simply to be become a sick prop? Whoever they were, Grady was sure of one thing.

Johnny Carnivàle had come to play.

Grady’s mind was racing now. Where was Johnny? In the shadows perhaps? Waiting to jump out? Or was he in the house? Hiding somewhere discreet, waiting for Grady to torture himself worrying about when Carnivàle would make his next move?

His first instinct was to run to the car and keep driving, never looking back. But then he remembered his wife sleeping soundly in the bed upstairs. Would Johnny hurt her, too? Was she in danger? Or would Carnivàle treat her as a bystander? A game piece not yet in play? Who could tell with a mind like Johnny’s, where the decision to let someone live or die was determined by random chance?

Grady turned back to face the house. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t leave his wife behind knowing what someone like Johnny could very well decide to do to her. He had left his revolver in the bedroom but the shotgun was in the cupboard under the stairs. If he could just reach it…

He ran back through the house as stealthily as he could, treating every shadow, every noise that seemed even slightly out of place with suspicion. Suddenly his own home felt strange and unfamiliar. Turning the lights on didn’t help, the whole building feeling tainted. This place was no longer his. It belonged to the monster now.

He was almost too afraid to open the cupboard door in fear that Carnivàle would be squatting inside waiting for him. He grabbed a kitchen knife on his way through as a precaution, holding it in front of him as if to ward off whatever malevolent force awaited inside the tiny space below the stairs. Keeping it pointed forward, he jerked open the cupboard door and prepared to strike first.

The cupboard was devoid of life save a few skittish spiders. Johnny wasn’t here. The shotgun was though, Grady taking it and quickly loading it. He grasped it firmly in one hand like a totem. Now he was better armed, he felt confident enough to make his way up the stairs, taking care to avoid the creakiest steps, hugging the wall as best he could. The shotgun remained rigidly pointing forward, the kitchen knife remaining in his other hand, ready to protect his blind spot.

He was soon a third of the way up…

His heart rammed itself against his chest repeatedly, as if trying to make a break for it. A small thought at the back of Grady’s head vocalised that if he wasn’t careful he was going to have a heart attack one of these days.

Half way up…

Grady realised he was panting heavily and attempted to suppress his gasps for air. He couldn’t tell if it was exhaustion from putting his old fat body through a sudden bout of physical movement or if it was the panic and fear of the situation, possibly a toxic combination of the two.

Three more steps to go.

Grady’s knees ached. His stomach didn’t want to be left out from all the warning signals his body was giving him so it chose that moment to toss a little bile back up his esophagus. He swallowed back the bitter acid, stifling a choking cough as it burned the back of his throat.

No sign of Johnny yet.

The guest room doors remained shut. No need to worry about those just yet. The thought of Johnny making himself at home inside what used to be his children’s bedrooms didn’t sit well, his stomach squirming at the thought of something like Johnny Carnivàle existing inside a room Grady associated with childhood innocence. He forced himself not to picture it. The goal was to reach his wife. The master bedroom was right in front of him-

-Movement to his left caught his eye. The bathroom door was moving. He quickly spun the shotgun around to point at whatever was about to emerge. Patches slunk out, stared up at him with the kind of indifference only a cat can achieve, and stalked off to find somewhere warm to sleep.

Cursing himself for being so jumpy, Grady turned his attention back to his mission and gently eased the bedroom door open.

Everything was how he had left it. His wife was still in bed, facing the wall, softly breathing in her sleep. The room still had the ripe odor of laundry that had been left in its basket for a little too long, turning the air stale and musty. Everything felt eerily ordinary despite the scene out in the garden…

He quickly approached the bed and placed the knife on his bedside table. Keeping the shotgun trained on the door, Grady placed his now empty hand on his wife’s shoulder and attempted to shake her awake.

“Honey? Time to get up now…” the laundry really did smell ripe. Really ripe. Rotten even…

“C’mon, we can’t stay here…” his wife’s breathing sounded a little funny as well. Wetter than normal. Slightly muffled too…

“We really need to go…” her hair looked odd too. Like it was matted with sweat to the point that it was practically glistening. The pillowcase was also a lot more red than he remembered…

And why did her shoulder feel so bulky? Like she was wearing extra layers? Was she cold?

“What’sh the matter lover? I like it here,” a voice not belonging to his wife came from the figure on the bed. There was a distinctive wet quality to the words as the figure’s jaw contorted around each syllable.

The body on the bed rolled over. Two evil, piercing eyes stared back at him. Blood dribbled between them from the matted remains of someone else’s scalp that was sitting on the head of the creature staring up at him. A stained vinyl mask dominated the lower portion of the face. Johnny Carnivàle was wearing Mrs Grady’s scalp like a wig, his face caked in her blood. He’d also perversely put on one of her nightgowns, which hung loosely even over his entire outfit, coat included.

Then the rest of the Sheriff’s senses woke up, realised they had each overlooked something and started to point things out in their own self-defence. His sense of smell picked up the unwashed fetid odour of rot and said “didn’t you realise that wasn’t the smell of your pants in the corner next to the laundry basket because it’s clearly too rotten?”. His sense of hearing picked up the slightly wet noise of Carnivale’s jaw contorting into a grin behind the mask and asked “wasn’t it obvious that your wife’s snores were peppered with the slightly gross slap of flesh against flesh like someone tonguing the inside of their own cheeks feverishly?”. His fingers, gripping shotgun at the moment, just offered “wasn’t it a bit weird that your wife’s shoulder was a bit thicker than normal when you squeezed it earlier?”. His sense of sight couldn’t tolerate any of the images in front of him and just went with “you idiot”. His brain joined up all these small oversights into one devastating realisation.

The woman he loved, the woman he had wanted to save, was hanging in the tree in the backyard.

Grady struggled to reply to the monstrosity lying in his bed. His body locked up as his heart went into overdrive, giving Johnny ample time to disarm him. Trying to find the words to describe how he felt, Grady eventually articulated it in the form of the scream that lasted for at least half an hour that night. The night before Sheriff Grady was found, his home decorated with his blood and organs. There were no witnesses, although someone saw Mrs. Grady get on a bus the following day. They admitted that it was dark at the time and that they couldn’t be sure for certain that it was her1. Mrs. Grady’s cat Patches was found alive and well, although it had eaten some of Mr. Grady’s entrails in the absence of other food.

  1. The bus driver later went on record to say “fuck no it wasn’t her” and that he “drove that psychopath to the next bus stop, where he got off and actually paid for his fair, all the while scaring the shit out of the people getting on the bus because it’s not every day you see a skinny white dude in a mask wearing someone’s blood, hair and nightie over their coat”.

Post by | October 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Halloween | No comment

Tags: ,