THROUGH THE IN BETWEEN, HELL AWAITS

by Robert Essig

Rich Wompler first saw her after the show hanging around like a dingle berry on a gutter-drunk’s keester. She was your typical rock slut wearing leather like a new skin, knee high boots, and earrings that could have doubled as weapons. Her face was like a horse’s ass run through a wood chipper, hair dyed so blonde you could see scabs on her head if you looked close enough, if your eyes drew themselves away from her absurd and lumpy boob job. Even the drummer of the band wouldn’t touch her much less the road crew.

 But Rich couldn’t get his eyes off of her. She was a disaster in black leather, a walking Petri dish of venereal disease, cheap booze, and even cheaper dope. As the other sluts were picked up and taken away in either the busses with the tour or cars from locals who came to the show, she remained. She wasn’t quite as flirtatious as the other tramps, but eventually one of the hangers-on gave her the time of day and she was off and walking with his staggering ass down the street.

Rich followed.

He wasn’t sure why, but there was something about her that captivated him. He wasn’t attracted to her (who really could be?—a drunk stoner, that’s who), but he felt the impulse to follow. After watching the circus troupe of leather clad whores get picked off one by one, he was want to see where the black sheep of the hatchet-faces was to end up after a night of rocking, drinking, and drugging.

They took D Street away from the venue, which was a dark street that even locals didn’t dare walk at night. Rich followed at a distance. He followed because it was something to do after another great Death Fraud show. He’d been following the band from city to city during their latest tour. Rich hadn’t considered himself a stalker, but it looked like both Death Fraud and the whore were his firsts.

The guy she walked with was a skinny bastard, hair long and greasy, clothes black-faded-to-gray which accented the stains quite nicely. He wore a Slayer shirt that he had probably bought twenty years ago that now hung on his spindly frame by mere threads.

Rich wanted so badly to listen in on their conversation, to see what kind of trifles a rock whore and a junkie spoke of while they looked for a good place to spread their disease. What did such losers have to discuss? Maybe the concert; maybe the local drug scene—maybe the state of global affairs . . .

They stopped near an alley, which startled Rich. He thought that they had seen him, but they were far too aloof to notice a stalker. The spindly man grabbed her breast and gave it a healthy squeeze before a nauseating kiss. Rich tucked himself in a dark corner near an abandoned tuxedo shop, watching from the shadows. He was a huge fan of Death Fraud, perhaps their biggest fan in America (he knew he wasn’t the biggest fan in the world because they were huge in Europe), and he had been following them along their west coast tour just like the bimbo he was watching from the shadows. Her MO was always the same, but tonight was different. Normally she left with her prize in a car; more often than not, it was a rusted-to-hell 80’s Ford Escort or a Trans-am with only one functioning headlight.

Tonight she walked, and when she grabbed the junkie’s hand and escorted him into the alley, Rich was taken aback. The alley! She was a desperate whore indeed to use a bum’s toilet for a quickie. The more Rich thought about it, the more he figured the wasted women that loitered after the show every night must have been prostituting. There was just no reason for them to give away the honey night after night to such tripe for nothing in return. But then again their bar wasn’t very high, was it? And their honey had gone sour many years ago.

Rich emerged from his concealment and cautiously headed for the opening of the alley. They were in San Diego, and he wasn’t familiar with the geography or the people. What he did know was that downtown alleys were hotbeds for crime, and he was beginning to feel the urge to retreat, as much as he wanted to see what a harlot like his precious hatchet-face got herself into night after night. What bent experience would be another line on her rapidly aging face?

At the edge of the alley, Rich slowed his pace. He looked behind to assure himself that he wasn’t being followed, or that some distraught hood was looking to mug him for the ten-spot in his wallet. All was clear, so he decided to peek into the alley. He could hear their voices, however he couldn’t make out what they were saying. If their conversation came to an abrupt halt he would assume they’d heard him and then turn and walk away as if he hadn’t been there at all. They wouldn’t suspect a thing.

They were talking and kissing and touching one another, giggling and smoking something, probably crack or meth. If the wind shifted, Rich would know soon enough. He hated shits like these two in the alley. There were so many of them at the show every night, pickled with toxins and spreading their disease without a care in the world. Rich was no killer, never could be, but if he were, these would be his targets. He’d take them out together and they’d be so fucking looped out of their minds on dope it would feel like an epiphany.

As Rich watched the depraved, he became comfortable with his surroundings. He would have liked a cold brew and some peanuts, but D Street was no open bar. He could have had gutter piss in a stepped-on paper cup with a handful of cockroaches, but no beer and peanuts.

The whore placed her hand on the back of the junkie’s neck in a gesture that looked far too delicate for the type of scum that used a dirty alley for a playpen. She took her lipstick smeared chops and whispered something into his ear, trying so hard to be sexy, but to Rich she looked cheap and disgusting.

What happened next put the fear of God into Rich, not that he believed in prophets and idols. The whore’s hand permuted into a claw with elongated fingers tipped with talons that looked prime for ripping flesh. The junkie didn’t seem to notice anything until it was too late, until his face was torn from his skull. He screamed, but his cries of agony were stifled quickly as the whore used her talons to rip his throat to ribbons. He fell to the garbage-laden floor of the alley, his head making a sound like a large coconut hitting pavement.

Rich held his breath. It seemed absurd, but his mind flashed the scene from Rear Window when the murderer sees Jimmy Stewart spying on him. That same horrifying moment could occur if Rich made a noise in the tireless night. What he thought would be a mindless bit of degenerate entertainment turned out to be something else altogether.

The flesh began running down her face like mascara after a bout of crying, revealing something beneath with queerly shaped eyes embedded in gray fibrous skin. It looked dead beneath, but whatever it was, it wasn’t human.

Clad in tramp-leather, the beast knelt before the junkie’s corpse. It began eating him like some wild animal. It wasn’t concerned that someone may be walking by or peering into the alleyway. It didn’t fear because it could destroy anything human with a single swipe of its talons.

Rich trembled as he watched the thing eat, slurping strands of flesh, blood, and human matter, noisily relishing in its meal. As it ate, its skin mottled into the thing its strung-out façade had been masking, and then it occurred to Rich in that moment that the woman he had been watching from town to town had been leaving the shows with scumbag junkies for the sake of killing and eating them. To this thing before him, the Death Fraud tour was nothing more than a means for survival, a way to obtain a meal night after night without drawing too much attention.

“Hey!” came a voice from behind Rich, startling him enough to cause him to nearly fall to the ground. “What the hell you doin’, white boy?”

Behind Rich was a Hispanic man, probably Mexican-American by the look of him and by his thick accent. He wore ghetto-issued white socks clear up to his knees with oversized denim shorts that almost constituted pant length along with a pristine white wife-beater shirt. He had a shaved head and thick drooping moustache so dark one would have to assume he went through puberty at nine and had sported the stache ever since.

The Latino grinned. His eyes were bloodshot slits; he was stoned on weed and malt liquor. “Wha-chu talking’ at, homes?”

Rich now feared not only the thing in the alley but the gang-banger as well, maybe even more so. One could never trust a low down hood. They packed heat and tended to hate anyone who traipsed onto their turf uninvited and there were usually others watching with guns and minds full of dope and booze.

“What the fuck!” said the Latino as he moved to the other side of Rich where he could see what the white boy was looking at.

Rich followed the Latino’s gaze back into the blood-stinking alley where things had changed quite a bit. The rock whore was now a bloodied, leather clad . . . well, rock whore. The beast Rich had seen only a moment ago was gone. Her distorted, gray face was now that of a drug addled floozy smeared in copious amounts of blood and gore. She stared at the two men watching her from the alley with faraway eyes. Her eerie gaze shifted to Rich. The blood was so thick on her maw with junkie-chunks that a runner dripped onto the alley floor with a sickening splat.

“Grab him,” said the bloodied whore. Her voice was crystalline as it echoed through the alley. It seemed to fill Rich’s mind with something sweet and soothing in place of such filth and murder, and in that moment something possessed him to grab the Latino man and haul his ass into the alley. The guy yelped as he was flung, and then he cursed Rich and went for the gun that was tucked into his belt, ready to speak with his 9mm.

“Shit!” said Rich as he realized the gravity of the situation. He thought to flee, and then the whore-thing once again twisted into a bestial mass of graying flesh, menacing talons, and razor teeth. Before the gangbanger had a chance to fire a shot, he was grabbed and thrown into the side of a building face first. He died on impact, his body toppling a pile of boxes and garbage.

Rich was petrified. He felt like an accomplice to the man’s death, and he supposed he was, but what was he to do? The gangster bastard was going to shoot him. There was nothing else he could have done, and if it wasn’t for . . .

The menacing form had once again returned to that of a burnt-out rocker. She was a mess of blood and alley filth, but she was once again human, and she was staring at Rich with eyes like mercury. They were mesmerizing. Rich was terrified that he would become her next victim, yet there was something about her that captivated him. Perhaps the very mysterious air that had captivated him since the beginning of the tour.

“You’ve seen me, haven’t you?” asked the whore. “The real me.”

Rich nodded. He was in too great a suspended state of shock and awe to attempt verbal communication.

She approached Rich with a saunter that may have been sexy were she not so burnt out and filthy. It was her way of reassuring him that she wouldn’t do him the way she did the other two men who crossed her path tonight.

Apprehensively, Rich took a step back. He could tell that she meant him no harm, but there was something about a bloodied woman who had just killed two men that encompassed Rich in fear. There was nothing he could do. If she wanted him dead, she would have him dead.

Standing arms length away, she spoke to Rich. “You’ve been watching me, haven’t you? Not just tonight, but every night.”

He nodded. At this point he figured he’d better answer her questions lest she become enraged and kill him. He was in a position where death seemed eminent, but there was always the hope that he could comply and make it out of this shit-hole alive. He had always been good at getting out of sticky situations, like that time in high school when he accidentally bumped into Rodney Long in the hallway. Rodney was a mean bastard only a fight or two away from being sent to continuation school. Rich had used slick wordage and comedy to get out of what would have proved to be a good beating.

Clever-speak and comedy wasn’t going to work on this vicious broad.

“You can see, can’t you? What everyone else can’t, I mean?”

Rich licked his lips searching for his voice. The woman licked her chops and grinned. “They can’t see . . . ?” said Rich.

She shook her head. “No. Only special people can see. Just what did you see?”

Rich took a deep breath. His eyes darted to the corpses littering the alley and in that moment before he answered her question he wondered why the police had not been contacted yet. “I saw something under your skin.”

She nodded as she turned and walked back to the junkie’s body mutilated on the floor of the alley. When she reached his body, she turned and faced Rich. Her true self once again peeked from beneath feted skin. Her razor teeth gleamed as she ripped into the flesh feast as Rich watched, too afraid to flee.

From the gaping wound that was the junkie, she lifted her face, mouth brimming with viscera. She chewed the innards as her silver eyes stared at Rich. One elongated finger gestured for him to enter the alley.

Rising waves of fear shattered his nerves. It was the most disgusting thing he’d ever been witness to, yet there was something that rose within, something that accompanied the fear yet was the complete opposite. He wanted to be there with her. Wanted to kneel before the victim with her, to . . .

Rich shook his head. He’d been consumed with fugue, just standing there watching a beast devour a human.

She was gone.

Rich had to ask himself whether she was there to begin with, but the writing was on the wall. The red-washed bones remained of the junkie, littering the floor of the alley like a grizzly horror film prop. The Latino man was where he had landed amongst several boxes and garbage. She hadn’t touched him for some reason. Rich supposed he wasn’t the reason she had been there. It was the junkie she was after. The gangbanger was just a bystander that had gotten in the way.

The right thing would be to call the police, but Rich was too involved for that. He didn’t even want to call anonymously, so he turned his back on the madness of the alley and walked away.

He had rented a motel room for the night on the outskirts of the city. It was late, so he began walking down D Street hoping for a fleeting taxi at 3 AM to shorten what would prove to be a lengthy walk down Desolation Boulevard.