Serial Killers: Stilt Walkers. Part 3
Where Daylight Meets Dreams
Amber didn’t sleep. The wakesfulness was building up inside of her. She could feel it like a glass of water filled to the brink.
In her house just as dusk was painting the sky red, she laid out a white button-up shirt on the bathroom counter. Mister Jonesy sat on the counter too, watching her work. She picked up a long needle from her mother’s sewing kit. She tried to be careful, but her hands trembled as she weaved the needle in and out of the stiff collar. Then she threaded another. And another. When she added the last one, the whole collar was lined with the longest and sharpest of the needles, all pointed up around the neck like the prongs of a king’s crown. She picked up the shirt and whipped it around her body like a cape. Her arms slipped in the sleeves. Her fingers, numb with fatigue, managed each button all the way up to the top and fastened the collar tight around her neck. The needles rested flat against her skin.
She bent her neck in each direction until she felt the sharp poke of the pins. When she bent forward, one of the longer ones got her good and drew blood.
“Ow,” she whispered. She pressed against the tiny hole to staunch the bleeding. Mister Jonesy looked up at her with his solid unblinking eyes. “One more thing, Jonesy. Just to make sure it works.”
Amber turned off the bathroom light and the room fell into absolute darkness. There, alone, unobserved and consumed in darkness she had a deep and sudden temptation to lay down and sleep. It would be easy. She’d have to take the shirt with the needles off first, but that wouldn’t take more than a few seconds. Then she could sleep, and sleep for a long time. Maybe, after enough rest, all these problems would disappear and she could remember what it was like to be normal again. Did she choose to close her eyes, or was it just fatigue? They closed, and there was no difference. Everything was dark. Still, those dreams were waiting for her just on the other side of the veil of consciousness.
The steering wheel of her car. The dashboard. A text alert from friends since forgotten on her cell phone. A flash of movement above the dash. A guy on a bike. Broken glass and blood.
Amber opened her eyes in the pitch-black bathroom. No difference. Only now she knew she couldn’t sleep. Not yet. Couldn’t play in her dreams just yet.
She exhaled. “Gotta give it a try, Mister Jonesy. Can’t let much out, but I have to know it’s in there,” she said and closed her eyes again. No temptation of sleep this time. She lifted her palms up in front of her face, her neck straight and rigid to avoid the needles. She crammed her eyes shut and concentrated as hard as she could.
The bathroom began to glow a dull red, then a brighter orange like the coils of an electric space heater. The shapeless glow took form behind her closed eyelids. Two palms. Ten fingers spread wide open. Like an image seen through a thermal sensor.
“That’s enough,” Amber said, cutting it off, and flicking on the light. It was instantly bright again, and she had to squint her eyes to see. The stuffed toy mouse—the rat, still sat on the counter. “Got to save it up, Jonesy. For when we need it later.”
The needles did their work. Whenever she drooped they stabbed her awake deep into the night.
Amber watched from her rooftop. Over the course of hours, traffic dwindled from steady to sporadic to vaccuumous. The moon crawled up the sky. Mister Jonesy, held close to her, never blinked and never slept. He’d been classically conditioned in his bucket not to fall asleep a long time ago. For Amber, her conditioning was just beginning. Her eyelids felt heavy like cinder blocks, and if she could have laced sewing needles through them to keep them apart, she would have.
Instead, she sat on the slope of her roof with the spikes surrounding her collar prodding her each time she moved. Every time she turned her neck, each time she craned up or down, they rubbed the skin a little redder and a little rawer.
Hours passed without a single sighting, and her invention got its first real test. Reality gave way to delirium and Amber’s head fell forward, hard. Two sewing needles stabbed deep into her skin. The sensation was so instantaneously painful she jerked her head back and got pokes from the needles in the back of her collar almost as deep as the ones in front. That brought her back to full consciousness, as alert as a rabbit in a field full of foxes. She brought her hand up to the skin next to her Adam’s apple. Her fingers came away red and wet.
“Jesus, Jonesy,” she said. “Remind me not to do that again.”
Mister Jonesy didn’t reply. His eyes were sewn open. For him, this was old hat.
Amber sighed and shuffled her butt, trying to get a little more comfortable on the shingles. Where were they? She knew they were out there, already stalking through the housing and picking their victims like quiet kids pressing down thumbs in a classroom; she just couldn’t see them yet. Each hour meant another house infected with their evil. She couldn’t wait much longer. She had to draw them to her. They always came closest to the dawn, when she was the most tired, when she balanced exactly right along the razor’s edge between awake and sleep. It was only when she was her most vulnerable that she could see them, intercept them and intervene. Right at that place where daylight met dreams.
She had to give them something. Had to present to them an easy target. A fragile mind for them to infect. Amber never learned to meditate. Never did yoga or any of that other stuff that might have taught her how to control her mind and set it in the place for a trap. So instead, she talked herself through the Hollywood pseudo-spiritual Jedi/Kung Fu version of meditation.
“Center yourself. Clear your mind. Think of nothing. Breathe. Let the bastards come to you,” she whispered. She wouldn’t allow herself to close her eyes. Just blink after heavy blink. She breathed. Focused. Not so much as to bring out her stored wakefulness, but enough to call out to them with her mind. Weak thoughts. Selfish thoughts. Thoughts that wanted sleep above all else. “Come my way and infect me with your evil. I’m ready for it, you sons of bitches.”
Around her, the crickets and frogs silenced their nighttime anthem. The buzz of a transformer went mute. Cool wind brushed past her ears. Something slow and plodding moved behind her. Amber sensed it more than heard it, but she knew exactly what it was.
“This Will Kill You”
She fixed her eyes straight ahead. Across the housing development, others emerged from the inky darkness of night. Thick bulbous bodies on impossibly thin and sharp legs. A radio tower blinked its warning light and reflected red off their glistening backs. They moved over rooftops like black Nazi zeppelins in the distance. Steady. Silent. Probing each residence for mental and moral weaknesses.
But those stilt walkers didn’t concern her nearly as much as the one creeping up behind her back. The sensation of a dozen whiskers as thick as hemp ropes stretching out to her. They smelled her, tasted her, savored her fear and fatigue, stretched around her arms and shoulders, overwhelming her. But nothing touched her, not yet.
Her breath was caught somewhere mid-throat. Her pours dumped sweat onto her skin. Slowly, she turned her head. A needle caught the loose flesh around one of the wounds and dragged it open a bit more. Blood ran free. She turned around and came to her feet.
The stilt walker loomed just a few feet from her face. The rope-like whiskers made a tunnel between her eyes and its eye clusters. Too many shiny black beads to count. She spotted more with each red flash of the radio antenna light. Hell-red ruby inlays in a leathery undulating body roughly the size and shape of a Volkswagen Bug. It pulsed and heaved as if breathing through lungs and beating an ugly heart, but she wasn’t convinced the thing had either organs. She breathed in its stink. Old food. Dried gym clothes. Dead animals. Burnt hair. Bad dreams.
The injector tube was already dangling from under its body. Now the tip of it snaked over the peak of the roof, its wet macaroni noodle-shaped end groping and sniffing as it went along the shingles till it found her shoe. It worked its way up, slipping along her bare legs up to the hem of her shorts.
Why wasn’t she running? Why couldn’t she move? Why was she letting this happen? She had a plan for this, didn’t she? Why wouldn’t it come to her now? Amber went light-headed. Her vision narrowed down to a white tunnel with just a few of the wet beady eyes at the other end reflecting the red pulses of the radio antenna. She felt that macaroni noodle end of the injector crawling up her, and as much as she didn’t want it touching her body, she knew when it reached her head the real hell would come. Why couldn’t she stop it?
The words of Laura from Lutheran Social Services repeated in her ears, “This will kill you.”
The injector sniffed at Jonesy clutched tight to her chest and pulled back for just a moment. The break in contact let Amber suck air into paralyzed lungs, let a little blood flow into her brain. The white tunnel widened as she got the sense to move away from the stilt walker. One footstep backwards. Only she’d forgotten she was standing on top of a pitched roof, and she didn’t account for the slope. Where she anticipated level ground, there was nothing. Before she could react, Amber was falling over backwards, landing hard on the roof and sliding head-first away from the stilt walker and towards the ledge.
As she went over, one hand reached out and caught the gutter. Her body swung and the inertia ripped her hand loose from the thin metal. Jonesy went flying. Gravity flung her to the ground and she landed hard on the grass next to her front porch. Every pain receptor in her body lit up from head to toe. Her sense of control was gone again. She was nothing but pain receptors now, unable to move or cry or roll off her face. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t make the pain go away. When she saw through the blades of grass that the stilt walker was wandering off, it got worse. This was her one chance, and she was blowing it.
It strode around her house and then down the lane. It dismissed her. Forgot her. Thought as little of her as a piece of wet litter in the gutter. Not a threat and too disgusting to bother with.
Amber moaned and arched and repeated the word “Ow” each time she moved. The pain localized to different parts of her body. Her sides throbbed and each time she tried to breathe the pain turned from dull and generalized to sharp and precise. Her head burned but kept her conscious as she climbed back to her feet. When she brought a hand up to her neck, she found one of the needles had come out of the collar and was buried half way into her skin. She plucked it out and threw it into the yard.
She gasped and something stabbed her side. Her ribs. She’d broken them this time. Still, her eye focused on the stilt walker lumbering away from her and down the street.
“Get… back… here,” she wheezed.
Never Blinking Eyes
Amber took a step and found new injuries and new pain just as overwhelming shooting up the length of her right leg. Bruises, she decided. She could still walk on it. Could still run.
“I said get back here,” she strained out a little louder this time.
The stilt walker didn’t pay any attention.
She jerked and limped and shuffled after the creature. Each stride hurt but she ignored the pain. She was determined now. Focused. Her purpose was set and certain. It’s wasn’t until she reached the street that she noticed her hands were empty.
Spinning back to the yard, she didn’t see him. Panic rushed over her. Without him, she couldn’t do any of this. She’d fail and the stilt walkers would continue to infect the world with their evil. She rifled through the bushes and landscaping. He had to be here. She was sure he fell off the roof along with her. If he was still on the roof she had no choice. She’d have to go back up and get him, but the stilt walkers would be long gone by the time she got back down.
Amber twisted her head around. The needles ripped flesh. The stilt walkers continued their migration through the neighborhood, one or two stopping at a time to inspect and infect, but moved herd-like further and further away.
Turning back to the house, the radio antenna flashed behind her and something reflected the red light from the shadows of the porch. Two tiny red beads. Two never blinking eyes.
“Jonesy,” she said and reached into the shadows. Her hand touched soft plush cloth. She pulled the stuffed mouse out into the moonlight and buried him in a hug. “Oh thank god, thank god, thank god.”
When she took him away from her chest to look in his eyes, he was wet with blood. It was from her shirt. The white button up was now dark from the collar to her stomach. The wounds on her neck dripped and drizzled more spots onto the white material.
Her balance went funny. Her vision turned fuzzy. Standing up and turning to follow the stilt walker migration, she staggered.
“If you keep this up, it will kill you.”
“Shut up, Laura,” Amber said.
They were getting away. Too far ahead for her to catch up with them, not with her equilibrium doing backflips and all of the joints in her right leg protesting with every step. She was failing. She was letting them win.
Amber’s eyes fell on her Toyota Corolla parked at the curb.
“It’s time to end this, Jonesy.”
Inside the car, she found the keys in the cup holder, exactly where she’d left them. She dug them out and jabbed them into the ignition. She cranked and held it down until the starter chugged and coughed. How long had it been since the engine turned over? She knew exactly how long. Not since the spring. Not since the accident.
“Come on, come on…”
One more sputter and it was alive. The engine roared and one unsmashed headlight lit up the street. The spindly legs of the walkers shining up ahead.
“Buckle up, Mister Jones,” she said and threw the transmission into drive.
It was no problem catching up to the creatures now. She passed around the legs of the one that had assaulted her on the roof. One wasn’t enough. Others were ahead. She had to get to the front of the pack if she wanted to stop them all.
And she needed them all. Needed to gather all the hate, all the greed, all the rudeness and impatience and short-sightedness that would build and build into mass murder and war and starvation… she could stop it all. She could save the world.
The Corolla weaved through them like a deer through trees. Some to the left and right. One, she went right between its legs. When she didn’t see any more ahead of her or any more to either side, in one motion, she hit the brakes and cranked the wheel. The Corolla ripped sideways, almost rolled, and left black arcs of burnt rubber on the street. Its one headlamp shined through the living room window of a random house. Amber grabbed Jonesy, threw open the door and stepped out.
Looking back over the hood, she saw the entire herd moving towards her. They converged and funneled through yards from adjacent roads. Still aching, each breath still stabbing bone into lung, Amber climbed onto the hood. Her shoes were wet and slippery against the metal. Drops of blood splattered against the glass and dusty paint job. She put a hand on the roof to stabilize herself as she climbed over the cracked windshield and then onto the roof. She came up to a wide stance, staring down the street toward the oncoming stilt walkers.
“I got ‘em Jonesy,” she mumbled. “This time I got them.”
They stilted closer.
One quick check down to her palms. They were wet with blood but that didn’t matter. Under the blood they glowed like soft light bulbs under lampshades.
The stilt walkers surrounded her. They unfurled their black ropey injector tubes and twisted them through the air towards her head.
Amber stood up straight and shoved out both palms, holding onto Jonesy with one thumb. She clamped her eyes shut tight, focused, and conjured up every ounce of lost sleep and every minute of wakefulness she’d stored up. It boiled up inside of her, swelled in her brain like a pus-filled wound. She gather up the pain and sorrow and hell of each late night until it was so hot inside of her she felt no other sensation. The pain in her leg and ribs went away. Her skin heated up to match the warmth of the spilled blood running down her neck. All that energy tunneled from her chest through her arms to her palms where it pooled up, dammed by the skin of her hands. Light kindled hot against her eyelids.
Here it came. Here is where she ended it.
They found her in the morning, lying out on the pavement next to the Corolla. Mister Jonesy sat next to her, just outside of the pool of blood, still smiling.
Laura from Lutheran Social Services stood over the body and shook her head, at a loss. “I mean, I don’t know if you can call her my client. We met once. Yesterday, at her school. Very troubled young lady. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than that, officer.” And then as she remembered bits of the conversation, “She wanted to save us all from some sort of evil influence. I didn’t understand it.”
The officer nodded his head knowingly and closed his notebook. She didn’t have anything worth jotting down. “Well, appreciate you coming down anyway. Try to have a good day, despite… well, despite this.”
Laura released a pent up breath. “The day can only get better from here. Safe bet I won’t be coming across any more dead bodies.”
That was the end of her conversation, and the end of her interactions with Amber.
She tried to forget about the strange girl with the strange obsession from that moment forward. Behind the wheel of her car and a few blocks away, she got the first relief from her thoughts of the dead girl. A buzz from her phone in her purse in the passenger seat. Not her habit to text and drive, but she decided she could use something to take her mind off the scene she’d just left.
Laura pinned the steering wheel in place with her knee and reached into her purse. She lifted the phone up and the alert still lit up the screen: a text message from an old friend she hadn’t heard from in ages. What a perfect distraction.
Joe Prosit writes sci-fi, horror, and psycho fiction. He has been previously published in Chantwood Magazine, The No Sleep Podcast, and Aphotic Realm Magazine. He lives with his wife and kids in the Brainerd Lakes Area of northern Minnesota. If you’re an adept stalker, you can find him on one of the many lakes and rivers or lost deep inside the Great North Woods. Or you can just find him on the internet at JoeProsit.com or follow him on Twitter, @joeprosit.
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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel, Reborn, and The Woodcutter, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused (all via Brigids Gate Press). Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.