Lightening slashed open the raging black clouds. Thunder shook the rocky ground. She stood facing the wind and opened her wings. She was alive for the first time.
Wayne Michaels, murmured in his sleep. In his dreams, he again struck the fatal blow. He watched his wife tumble, in slow motion, down the stairs for the last time. Her mouth formed a round O of surprise; her reaching hands scrabbled for a hold. While he slept, Wayne clutched his hands behind his back. Clutched them tightly as he had on that night as his wife bounced from wall to stairs. Each thump echoed in his brain.
He could have saved her!
If he had only reached out one hand instead of stubbornly hiding his palms like a bad boy caught in the cookie jar.
But Elizabeth crashed to the bottom with one final thud.
From his place at the top of the stairs Wayne heard her gasp out her last breath: saw her chest rise once before she became motionless forever. Her once beautiful face locked into an angry mask of death so hideous Wayne had to look away.
In his nightmare, Wayne’s eyes moved from the fresh corpse to the window where the late afternoon sun swept golden rays across the carpet.
But the day darkened abruptly.
Chills gripped Wayne.
His thudding heartbeat gnashed and grated likes machinery.
“I’m coming,” a tiny voice grated in his ear. “I’m coming for you, Wayne.”
Wayne needed to wake up now. But as he turned toward the window again, a huge dark shadow swept by . . .
Jerked awake by something he couldn’t quite remember, Wayne Michaels shivered in the cool night air. Harsh grinding sounds plagued his ears. It took him a moment realize that his teeth were grating against each other. While he slept, he had kicked off the quilt and could feel goose bumps bubbling on his naked flesh. Rubbing his aching jaw, Wayne reached about on the floor. His hand encountered something soft just as a dark shadow blotted out what little light had been in the room. Shivering with fear that he couldn’t explain Wayne snapped on the bedside lamp. Yanking the quilt from the floor, he wrapped his chilled body and huddled miserably in the big empty bed, still rubbing his jaw. He hadn’t had a problem with grinding his teeth at night since he had been a child. He really hated sleeping alone. Damn Elizabeth. Why did she have to be so weak?
He left the light on for the rest of the night.
Two days later, Wayne paced, stopped, opened the window, snapped on the television, lounged briefly in his recliner, and then jumped up and paced some more.
Glancing at his watch every five minutes, Wayne’s restlessness carried him past the six o’clock news and into the sitcoms. Comedy escapades did little to lighten Wayne’s mood. But, by the time the sun slid behind Mount Mariah, Wayne was nodding in his chair. Thirty minutes later, while Wayne’s soft snores and rigorously grinding teeth punctuated the quick responses of a new TV rescue show, a huge dark shadow filled the softly lit living room and then floated away.
Wayne mumbled in his precarious slumber. The shadow swooped again as the Wrenge soared closer in the indigo sky looking for a landing site.
The porch roof next door, with rough shingles for good footing, gave the Wrenge a perfectly unobstructed position. Stationing herself where her shadow cast a visible stain on the Michael’s living room carpet, the Wrenge folded her great wings protectively around herself and dozed peacefully in the cool autumn air.
Twisting and moaning in his uneasy slumber, Wayne suddenly bolted into consciousness. He sensed, rather than saw, the shadowy mark by the window. Shivering from the cold, rancid night air wafting through the open window Wayne felt his testicles tightening and the little hairs on the back of his neck stiffening. An incredible rush of aloneness swept him and a dull ache in his chest reminded him to breathe. Eerie music wafted softly from the television. The remote lay three yards in front of him, on the coffee table. He longed to reach over and switch off that dreadful music but his limbs were numb with inexplicable fear and refused to cooperate.
His jaw felt like he had been kicked in the face by a horse.
The room was dark.
Bluish light from the television did little to dispel the suffocating blackness that seemed to swell with each breath.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the murk they were drawn to the grayish patch of carpet just ahead. It looked more like a deep hole than a shadow. The oval shape yawned and stretched like a giant mouth ready to take a bite.
As Wayne worked to steady his breathing and try to rationalize his fear—
(Just your guilty conscience at work)
The ever darkening shadow began to boil and twitch. Its edges rolled inward, like a waterfall of ink, while the center bubbled and frothed like liquid tar.
(Just a dream—the music, the stench—just my guilty conscience at work. I’ll wake up soon.)
From the center of the churning darkness a delicate form rose. Faintly iridescent, it sucked in light as it glowed dark blue, violet, finally pale pink. Wayne heard a sucking-pop as the pink shape moved out of its inky pool.
The features stabilized into Elizabeth’s face.
(Now I know this is a dream.)
Daintily, Elizabeth’s pink, naked body stepped forward. Her smiling face was beautiful, unlined and glowing—her body soft and round.
She looks just as she did on our honeymoon, Wayne thought. His limbs felt heavy and his jaw throbbed. The television fell silent but he sensed it watching him with its single blue eye.
Elizabeth’s rosebud lips parted.
“Blood,” she whispered raising a graceful arm and pointing to Wayne.
Electrified by the sudden sound, Wayne’s teeth involuntarily clamped shut: biting down hard on his tongue. The salty taste of blood gagged him as his eyes filled with tears and blurred his vision. Inert limbs suddenly reanimated—flinging him out of the chair.
He was face to face with his dead wife’s wraith.
Elizabeth’s pointing finger dabbed briefly at the trickle of blood on Wayne’s lip. Her touch was icy and damp like a slug inching across his mouth.
Sweat seeped from Wayne’s pores.
A mottled purple tongue flicked from her mouth as the Elizabeth-thing licked his blood from her finger.
Wayne felt her fetid breath on his neck—smelled the stink of decay, and, although he caught only a brief glimpse, he was sure he had seen festering wormholes and writhing maggots on her dank purple tongue.
He could feel his gorge rising and clamped his teeth together. Fresh pain throbbed in his torn tongue and aching jaw. The salty taste of his own blood and the pain in his mouth brought anger. This was when the reality of Wayne’s situation blossomed in his brain.
(Who in the hell does she think she is . . .)?
Wayne’s arm came up. Hand clenched into a fist. “Listen you . . .”
“Bone,” the Elizabeth-thing whispered as she reached out a small pink hand and tore off Wayne’s upraised arm at the shoulder.
For a dream the pain was awfully fierce, Wayne thought.
The cauliflower knob of bone on the end of the severed arm that Elizabeth was clutching looked dreadfully real. So did the bloody empty socket on his right shoulder.
In a swooning haze, Wayne heard the raucous grating of his own teeth—smelled the sickening odor of his blood and felt the sting of tears in his eyes.
With primal fear he watched Elizabeth peel back the flesh from his severed arm and tear out the bone. It gleamed with a pink hue as Elizabeth’s small hands stripped flesh away. Again his neck and chin were washed in the revolting stink of her breath as her rosebud mouth yawned exceptionally wide and chomped blackened teeth onto the nub of bone. The bone broke with a distinct cracking sound leaving a sharp-looking, splintered fragment in Elizabeth’s hands: hands spattered with droplets of maroon blood and orange bits of flesh and broken blood vessels.
“Tears,” it whispered, touching Wayne’s cheeks and lapping gory fingers with that worm-riddled tongue.
Fear mushroomed from Wayne’s broken body when he saw that rosebud mouth moving toward him.
(She’s going to kiss me.)
His scream was swallowed by the cavernous mouth clamping over his lips. A jolt, like electricity, coursed through his body as the bone splinter pierced his heart. With the last of his comprehension, Wayne felt his soul, or his essence—perhaps it was his tumultuous fear, sucked from his body like a modified abortion.
“Fears,” the Elizabeth-metamorphosis whispered as she stepped back from the dead husk of Wayne Michaels and reentered the roiling shadow.
Rejuvenated, the Wrenge drifted silently across the indigo skies over Memphis.
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