Chapter 16 from the Ama audiobook
Thump… Thump… Slap.
The loud sounds coming from the front door jerked Jason out of his stupor. He jumped from the chair, grabbed a knife from the block on the kitchen worktop, and then froze, his ears straining to hear any further sounds.
Slap… Slap… Thump… Slap…
He moved to the hallway door in slow, quiet steps. With the knife held in a firm grip, he peered out into the hall and looked towards the front door.
Another thump. Then a gurgling, spluttering scream.
He focused his gaze on the small rectangular hole in the centre of the front door—the hole that once had a pane of glass until the police officer had smashed it. He could see the grey of the desert beyond. Something flashed past the hole. It looked like a hand, but he couldn’t be sure. He edged his way down the hallway, towards the door.
Slap… Slap… Followed by more gurgling sounds.
He reached the archway to the living room and leaned his head forward to peer in. The living room was as he remembered: large TV, leather sofa…
A hand slapped against the front window, causing Jason to jerk his head back. The fingers of the hand looked broken and pointed in opposing directions. A moment later, the hand fell away as the bruised head of a man bobbed up into view, one bulging and wild right eye glaring into the living room, a mere black empty socket where the left eye should be. The man’s head twisted to its left, and then it snapped over and lay flat against his shoulder.
His neck looks broken, Jason observed with wide-eyed fascination—morbid curiosity quieting his fear for a moment. How is this guy still moving?
The man’s head bolted upright once more, and his solitary eye fixed on Jason. A pregnant moment passed and then he dropped back down and out of sight again. Jason held his breath and let it out in a burst as the man reappeared once more. The man headbutted the window. A small crack shot up the glass, which then forked into three further cracks across the pane. Another tremendous whack from his head, and the window turned opaque and then shattered into a myriad of translucent white cubes, which all came cascading to the living room floor.
Jason restrained his urge to run. Stay where you are, he told himself, in case that bloody freak tries to climb in. He shouted to the man, “Get the fuck away. I’ve got a knife.”
“Help me,” the man yelled. “Why is this happening?” His every word sounded as though it were an immense and painful effort.
“I can’t help you. Oh, Christ! I can’t help you. Just… Fuck off!”
The sickening sound of hard retching came from the garden. Then the man screamed, “You… Bastard… Help me.”
The man’s head appeared in the hole in the front door, pure terror radiating from his framed face. The head moved back a few inches from the hole as two of his broken fingers found purchase within the empty eye socket. His hand pulled away in a sharp, quick motion, wrenching the fingers from the socket. He screamed and then forced his head back into the hole while he slapped and thumped the door. He smiled at Jason. Then he frowned, grimaced, scowled, and smiled again, all in agitated succession.
The man cried out, “What’s happening to me?” The cry became a gasping, salivating voice. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with me? Help me? I can see you in there, you fuck.”
Jason raised his knife and wondered if the blade would be capable of piercing the man’s skull. The man’s one twitching eye fixed on the threatening blade. Jason dropped the knife and ran to the door, throwing his fist at the manic face staring back at him through the hole. His knuckles cracked as he punched the man back and away from the door. He opened the door and watched as the man rolled back and forth on the lawn, his arms and legs flailing about in all directions.
“Cunt! You fucking cunt!” the man shrieked. Then he slapped the side of his own head with one hand while again forcing the twisted, gnarled fingers of his other hand into his empty eye socket.
“What… What are you doing?” Jason asked as he tried to make sense of why this man was attacking himself. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
The man stopped slapping his head and focused on gripping his skull by the barren eye socket. His head flopped from side to side as he tugged and pushed at it. “Can’t… stop… it,” he said, chewing on his tongue in-between gasped words.
Jason fell to his knees next to the man and then cradled his head while also trying to restrain his thrashing arms. “What’s your name?” he asked through his struggle.
The man made frantic panting sounds as his tongue jabbed in and out in sporadic bursts. He was wearing what appeared to be suit trousers and a blue silk shirt, which hung from his body in tatters. He had no shoes or socks, and his toes, like his fingers, looked broken and twisted. Jason continued to cradle the man’s head and tried to block his hands as he punched, slapped and ripped at himself. His muscles tightened, released, then tightened again with incredible speed. Jason could hear bone grinding against bone within the man’s juddering body.
“I… I… I’m…” The man bit down hard on his tongue then screamed out in pain. “Cunt!” His head bucked, thumping hard into Jason’s arms and chest.
“Wait… Shit… Hang on, I’ll get something,” Jason said as he laid the man down.
The man continued to twitch and convulse with sharp, brutal movements. Jason got to his feet and ran back into his house and then into the living room. He questioned his decision to try and help the man.
The cubes of glass from the shattered window crunched under his footfalls as he walked to the sofa. He grabbed one of the large leather seat cushions, and then turned and threw it through the window and out into the garden. Just give him the cushions, he thought, then leave him and be on your way. He grabbed another cushion and turned to face the window again. He was about to throw it into the garden when a familiar growl stopped him dead. He could see the grey statue in the garden. Next to it stood the caretaker. The terrifying creature was looking down at something by the statue’s feet. Jason dropped the cushion and ducked down.
While keeping low, he moved towards the window. He slid his feet across the floor, pushing the cubes of glass to one side, although he doubted any sound he made would be heard above the screams of anguish now coming from the garden—rasping yelps which escalated to piercing feral screams, which caused pain to Jason’s ears and bile to rise in his throat. He reached the side of the window and stood up, keeping his back as close to the wall as possible. He took a deep breath and then peered around the frame and looked out into the garden.
The man still lay upon the ground and was now floundering from side to side. The caretaker looked down at him. Its jaw opened inch by inch until it hung agape to a foot or more. It watched the man with malevolent eyes.
The man’s body jerked, jumped, and then rolled to the left and to the right. With each turn to his right, his body bumped up against the foot and leg of the statue. Every time he touched the statue, the caretaker snarled and the skin around its mouth rippled.
“Christ, buddy,” Jason whispered. “Move away from it. Move… away.” For a moment he thought he could see pleasure on the caretaker’s face, amused by the pathetic sight of the man rolling around on the ground at its feet. The diabolical creature seemed to be relishing the sight of another being in obvious and unrelenting agony—look how the slug squirms within the salt.
In an instant, the caretaker became a blur—a mere liquid shadow—as it dropped to all fours. Solidity returned to the creature as it moved towards the man, its gaping jaw dragging along the ground next to the man’s quivering body. The prey let out a shrill cry as the predator pinned him in place with one colossal hand. Its long slender fingers crept and searched over the man’s face while it sniffed at its terrified quarry, first in rapid bursts, then with long deep breaths. The man’s skin turned black.
“L-l-let me d-d-die… P-p-please… j-just let m-m-me die,” the man stammered.
Jason watched as the man continued to writhe beneath the caretaker’s effortless hold. The man should already be dead judging by the bone protruding from his neck. In fact, it looked as though every bone in his body had broken, yet he still moved, he still spoke, and he still screamed. Somehow, he was still alive. Whatever “alive” meant now.
Lilith’s words echoed within Jason’s mind. “You’ll die many times before I’m done with you.” He realised the torture of the damned had a more subtle edge, too, something that would chip away at the soul. It was impossible to quench your thirst, as water would boil within your mouth, and food was also useless, as it would turn to sand with the first bite. Food and drink was no more substantial than a memory, a teasing recollection of past culinary pleasures while sand grinds between your teeth. He felt thirsty and had hunger pangs. Maybe the pain is all there would be from now on—pain, but no death. But the man was disintegrating with the caretaker’s every breath. Soon, as had happened to Zoe, there would be nothing left of him. What then?
“You’ll die many times before I’m done with you.”
As Jason continued to watch the man being turned into ash, he wondered if this was what happened when Lilith had finished with you; the caretaker comes along and cleans up. If so, he considered, could he provoke the caretaker into finishing him off too and give him the oblivion he was expecting in death? A moment of pain and then nothing? The thought was brief, though, as the memory of his daughter stamped on his desire to be cast into the void.
Jason was sure he could traverse the desert and get to the mountain, even with no water and no food. Unless Lilith decreed it so, he presumed he wouldn’t die from dehydration or starve to death. He had a chance to get to the mountain and win Lilith’s sadistic little game.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as he looked away from the garden, turning his back on the harrowing sight of the man and the horrific creature that was consuming the charred body with its every breath. He backed away from the window and crept through the archway. Once out of the living room, he bolted for the stairs.