Dread the Darkness
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
– H.P Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)
Jackie Estacado waved his gun and cell phone in front of him and frowned, trying to make sense of the whole macabre scene, but after a few seconds in apparent deep thought, he sighed, realising that nobody in the room was going to be impressed by his reasoning. They were all dead.
In the dim lamp light he could make out four of them, lying around the central table. They seemed to have fallen from their chairs in the middle of a card game, their bodies twisted into impossible angles, as if they had been struggling so vigorously with something, someone, that their joints just gave way under the stress. Their faces were a ghastly pale green and contorted into expressions of unimaginable horror.
The signature suits and hats of the Franchetti mob were violently torn and ripped here and there to reveal large gaping wounds so sickening that Jackie had to turn away with revulsion.
Dead for hours … their hearts have rotten …see …
"Shut up, monster." Jackie clutched his gun in frustration. All this power, and he could not save his own men.
" Jackie, is that you ?"
The young Don looked up at the far corner of the room towards the source of the faint whisper, and spotted the figure of a man sitting against the wall. He was hugging his legs very close to his chest and was shivering all over. He held a cell phone in his hand, and its eerie blue glow shone onto his face to reveal a very familiar face, though Jackie had never seen Jimmy the Grape appear so frightened before.
"Jimmy, what happened here ?" Jackie could see the old man's eyes widen and hear his breathing become shorter and quicker, as the latter recalled an event that had to be so horrifying that even a man who has seen countless murders and mafia intrigues in his life was totally unnerved by it.
"He … he … no, it …" Jimmy stuttered. "Oh, those … those creatures … you wouldn't believe what I saw, boy, you wouldn't believe what I saw …" The old man buried his face in his trembling hands.
"It's alright Jimmy. You are still alive." Jackie approached his friend to try and comfort him.
Then Jimmy suddenly looked up and tugged at Jackie's black leather coat, whispering in an urgent voice, "It wants you, Jackie. I had to call you, or else, or else … I am sorry, Jackie, I am so sorry …"
"What, what are you talking about…" then Jackie heard from behind him a faint hissing, growling sound and the noise of something wet slapping against wood. Jimmy gasped and stared past his young boss in terror. Now Jackie realised that there was more than one hissing sound and there were many wet slapping noises against the wooden floor and the wall, as if something just emerged from the water and was slowly inching its way towards his back.
Immediately, Jackie spun round and pointed his gun forward, only to see a huge, dark green shape turn and run towards the door behind it. Having trained as a hitman since adolescence, Jackie fired several shots at the nameless thing without hesitation as it disappeared behind the doorway. Something the size of half a human arm exploded and dropped to the floor of the dark corridor beyond the door, where it flopped and twitched randomly. For a moment the shots illuminated what appeared to be a jumble of limbs, glistening scales and all was dark and silent, except for a series of thuds and creaks that grew fainter and fainter as the main body of whatever that was made its way down the corridor.
Jackie stepped through the door and bent down to examine the severed appendage. It was still struggling violently in a puddle of dark, blue – green fluid. It appeared like the severed anterior half of a large viperfish, its toothy jaws still gaping and snapping, as if trying to seize and rip an invisible prey to pieces. Its round, bulging white eyes emitted a ghastly blue - green glow. As it heaved and threw its head about, it seemed to come closer and closer to sinking its long needle–like teeth into Jackie's legs.
Ah, poor creature, put an end to its misery…
Jackie felt an uncontrollable shuddering in his left knee, where a gigantic black eel with bioluminescent spots running down its neck and jaws lined with sinister dagger-like teeth emerged, slithering down onto the floor. With rapid chomps and gulps, the eel devoured the helpless viperfish, and withdrew back into Jackie's body.
Jackie stood up and looked around. He was standing in an unlit corridor that led further into the abandoned warehouse building. The latter had been heavily renovated to serve as a den for the mob. What business went on within its run-down walls, Jackie could only guess, for he had only taken the title of Don for a few days, and had only just begun to learn some of the best kept secrets among the Chicago Families.
Just then, Jackie was gripped by a mild sensation of fear and apprehension, which began to manifest themselves in disturbing hallucinations. The wooden planks that made up the surrounding walls, ceiling and floor seemed to curve into the form of greyish ribs which continued to close in on him. The failed lamps along the corridor glowed a faint green and turned to stare at him like the eyes of creatures whose whole nightmarish forms were hidden in the darkness. The various doors on both opened little by little as if someone, or somethings, were struggling to get through them and would bust into the corridor at any moment. Then, just as quickly as those illusions formed, they were dispelled.
Fear not what you cannot see, for yours is the power of Darkness.
Raising his gun, he walked over to the end of the corridor, where it turned into a better lit hallway, and weird shadows danced on the walls. Jackie heard a faint reverberating laughter.
"Who are you ?" Jackie tried to make out the exact outline of the shadows he saw. There was silence, and for a moment he thought he was still hallucinating. Perhaps there really was noone hiding at the end of the corridor. Perhaps, being a hitman and a gangster, he was too used to the idea of being ambushed by thugs in unsuspecting corners.
"Dread itself has come to claim you, crime lord …" The deep, droning voice echoed throughout the corridor.
Now, Jackie could discern the rough shape of the shadow being cast on the wall of the far end of the corridor. A hunched figure. It appeared human, but the way it stooped and held its head and appendages up reminded Jackie of a fish or octopus dragging itself along on dry land. Dark strips trailing out from above and in front of the figure gave the impression of thrashing tentacles, while a series of dubious looking frills and flaps hid the true outline of the body.
"If this is some kind of prank, I am not amused." Now Jackie took light and gentle steps to avoid alerting the unseen owner of the droning voice to his approach.
"The power of the Abyss is very real …" came the thundering reply.
As if excited by this reply, Jackie felt the Darkness urging him to go forward quickly.
Wait no more, kill this abomination …
Jackie rounded the corner and fired several shots into the hallway.
The hallway was empty.
Then he saw that one of the doors before him was opened slightly, and for a moment he thought he saw something slither through the opening.
Jackie ran up to the the door, swung it open, and pointed his gun forward, then froze in shock as the head of a viperfish dropped down right in front of him and clamped its jaws around his face.
Everything went black, and pain shot profusely through his head, then the rest of his body. He felt himself being burned all over until he went numb.
Jackie awakened to the sound of groaning and mumbling around him.
He surveyed his surroundings. He was in a very large room, or hall, so large that the ceiling and walls were barely visible in the dark. Crates and broken furniture were stacked up around him, leaving a clearing the size of a basketball court, which was lit by a large bright lamp hanging down from the tall ceiling. In it he sat with three other men, all tied up to their heavy metal chairs and arranged to face the centre of the clearing in a broad circle.
"What's going on, Jackie ?" To his right there was a middle aged man wearing a grey suit and a purple tie. There were streaks of grey in his hair and a scar ran down his forehead to his right cheek.
"No idea, Gambino."
"Get me outta this thing, else uncle Carl's gonna get real angry now, boys." Complained another middle aged man with long black hair, seated directly in front of Jackie. He wore a white suit with several bulging pockets.
"We gonna be OK, right ?" The young man with a moustache looked towards Jackie. He wore a a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt with the words, "MICHAEL RULEZ" dyed onto it in bold black letters.
"I ... I really don't know ..." Jackie stopped short as he as he saw some crates at one corner of the clearing begin to shift as something from behind them pushed them aside.
Then a figure of average build, clad in clothing that was tattered and greyed beyond recognition, stepped into the light. His hair was a tangled mass, and his bloodshot eyes glared murderously at the men sitting in the clearing. His mouth curled up in a gleeful smile as he spoke.
"Good evening, bastards. How does it feel to be the victims for once ?"
Carl looked behind him with a start, then stammered, "What, what's the meaning of this ?"
Their captor shook his heard and sneered, "Oh, I thought you'd know. Isn't that what you mafia people always do ? You sneak up on your target, then beat him up till he doesn't know left from right, and then drag him over to places like this, where you torture him, and ..."
Jackie cut him off, "Look, friend, I don't know who the hell you are, but I think you got the wrong people. Paulie Franchetti is dead. We are not involved in the shit that he does. "
"Ha, you big time gangsters are all alike. You act tough and unbeatable, but you are all just lousy cowards. You think that you strike fear into everyone ha ? Well tonight you will have a taste of your own medicine !"
The figure in rags approached Carl and placed a hand on the latter's right shoulder. "... and oh, I forgot to introduce myself. Well, there is still some time before all of you are dead, so let me give you an elaborate one. For starters, you can call me Dread."
For some reason, Carl's expression changed from one of anger to one of shock. The other men stared, eyes wide, as the pockets on Carl's suit began to bulge and throb, as if something in them were struggling to crawl out.
"Now, you people kill so often that I doubt you ever stopped to think what happens to your victims when they die ..."
"Let him go !" Jackie shouted. He tried to call upon his Darkness powers, but nothing happened. The light here was too bright. He looked around frantically for anything that could help him, in vain. His hands were tied up behind him in coil after coil of thick rope. His gun was gone. No knives, no sticks, anywhere.
"I went to this place called the Abyss..." Dread tightened his grip on Carl shoulder and the latter swore loudly. "Horrible, horrible place. All my worst fears in life were manifested ..."
"The guy's insane !" Gambino shouted.
"Do something, Jackie, do something !" Michael cried out.
"but I overcame all of them" Dread ignored the exclamations. "I met this terrible .. and magnificent creature. It sent me back and guess what I found after that ?"
Now panic was written all over Carl's face. From his left chest pocket two long thin wires emerged, followed by two bulbous red translucent beads, held on short stalks. These, it soon became clear, were attached to the top of a spiky, greyish pear-like main body, from whose sides long thin segmented limbs ending in claws and pincers sprouted and hauled the creature out of the pocket.
Similar critters, resembling mutated hermit crabs, crawled out from other pockets and climbed all over Carl. More and more of the monstrous crustaceans dug their claws into his arms, and thighs, and neck, and chest, and face ... until his whole body was covered in them. Beneath the incessant clicking and hissing, Carl's muffled screams could be heard.
Then it seemed that some of the crabs had cut loose the ropes tying Carl to his chair, as all of a sudden, he stood up and hopped about like a mummy come to life, then collapsed onto the floor and writhed in agony for a few seconds. Then he shuddered and stopped moving. "My men are gonna find you, and when they do, they are gonna pump your ass full of lead !" Gambino spat.
"Alright, you are next, scarface !" Dread looked over to Gambino and the latter froze in terror. "Ah, fear ! Now you see ! Now you see what I can do ! "
"Leave him alone !" Jackie demanded, almost pleaded.
Let him gloat while he can, Jackie, there is nothing you can do for your friends now ...
Jackie sighed in despair.
"Of course, nobody can materialise peoples' fears just by willing it. Only the Lord of the Abyss can do that. This set-up took quite a while to prepare, so be sure to enjoy every last bit of it !" Dread stamped his right foot on the floor.
Without warning the floorboards under Gambino's chair began to buckle and crack, as if they were being torn downwards. At last they snapped and fell into a black space below the floor, leaving a gaping, three metre wide hole with jagged edges and a single plank across its middle, on which Gambino's chair was precariously balanced on two of its four legs.
Gambino stared down at the unfathomable depths, eyes wide and all the blood gone from his face, as he trembled and struggled in panic. His chair rocked violently to and fro, until at last he tumbled backward and down through the hole. There followed a loud splash and the gasps of a drowning man, and finally the faint flopping and gurgling of carnivorous fishes stripping a corpse of its flesh.
They were a burden to you, they were better off dead ...
"Oh no, no, no please, I am too young to die !" Michael cried. "Jackie, do something !"
Then, to Jackie's surprise, Michael's face lit up and he cheered, "Oh, thank God Jackie ! I knew you had something up your sleeve !"
"What the ... what are you talking about ?" Jackie heard a sinister chuckle from Dread and it dawned on him what their mad captor had in stall for his third victim.
Ignoring Jackie's question, Michael continued his weird excited babble, "Go get him, Jackie ! Go get ... wait, what are you doing ?" Michael looked up with a puzzled expression, as if observing the approach of someone who really wasn't there. "No Jackie ! No ! I am your friend remember ? Jack ..."
Michael's words trailed off into a series of incomprehensible shrieks and coughs. Something had constricted his windpipe and prevented him from speaking. Then there was a sickening crack as his invisible assailant shoved his head to one side, breaking his neck in the process.
Jackie suppressed the urge to blurt out all the swearwords, English and Italian, that he had learned since childhood.
Soon, Jackie, soon ...
Dread laughed triumphantly as he approached his last intended victim and bent forward, bringing his face close to Jackie's , so that he blocked out most of the light from the lamp. "Now, crime lord, how shall I dispose of you ?"
Ah, at last, sweet shadow ...
"I told you just now. You've got the wrong people !" Jackie tried to sound as exasperated and desperate as he could. He knew that Dread would not be satisfied until he had killed off every last member of the Franchetti mob in some gruesome way. Jackie needed to stall for time.
Then, right before Jackie's eyes, there occurred a transformation so shocking that any other witness would have gone insane at the sight of the monstrous results.
Dread's skin turned from a tanned pale orange to a dark, scaly green. Rings of long translucent tentacles bloomed here and there like gigantic polyps and tore through the rags with rows of sharp lamprey-like teeth in the centre of each polyp. His eyes bulged, rolled over to a ghostly white, and gave off a blue-green glow. His jaws expanded to unreal proportions. Long, sharp fangs protruded out from their rims and interlocked, giving his head the general appearance of that of a human-sized viperfish. Rows of spines connected by a glistening webbing rose along his back and his limbs.
Smaller viperfish heads emerged all over his body as if surfacing out of deep water and lunged at Jackie like piranha rushing to rip a drowning animal apart.
Yet Jackie was no drowning animal. Now he smiled calmly, unmoved by the fact that Dread was going to tear him to pieces.
A sharp bulge appeared in Jackie's chest. The next moment a thick black tentacle lined with huge claws shot out towards Dread with searing speed. Dread hissed and growled in shock as Jackie's demon arm impaled him in the chest and pushed him several metres backwards, stopping just when half his body lay on the large hole in the floor through which Gambino had fallen a while ago.
"About time." Gigantic Darkness eels emerged from Jackie's back and quickly gnawed away at the ropes around Jackie and his chair.
Dread struggled to break free from Jackie's demon arm. His viperfishes constantly snapped at the huge black tentacle, only to be ripped into dark green shreds by its foot long swiping claws.
Kill him, kill him !
Large black hazy spots appeared in the air around Dread. They drew in all the debris around them – dust, wooden splints, blood ... They tugged at Dread's body, warping it painfully and threatening to tear it apart.
Dread looked in Jackie's direction, and howled, eyes bulging in terror, "Great Lord of the Abyss, have mercy on this your servant !"
From the large black hole in the floor, three grey humanoid figures, wingless gargoyles with yellow glowing eyes climbed out and grabbed Dread by the arms and head. The ghoulish Darklings proceeded to drag the still howling and struggling Dread into the hole, emitting a spine chilling shriek with each exertion. Finally, the mighty monster of fear splashed down into the darkness below, and the Darklings dove down excitedly after him.
The test is over, my host, you are still my strongest agent.
As the Darkness withdrew into his body, Jackie sat back into his chair and drew long, deep breaths, dazed at what just happened and also at that last comment by the Darkness.
Then it hit him.
He sat still for quite some time, his mind reeling at the impact of the revelation. All this time ... and he never realised. Inwardly he cursed himself for allowing this miserable existence to continue. He should have stayed dead the first time. Yet, there was always a stronger voice within him, influencing him, indirectly manipulating him to its own ends. One by one It did away with those closest to him.
Now there was no one who could stop him. To stop It. There had never been. There was nothing to do but to accept this fact. He was the true vengeance and fear incarnate.
Jackie Estacado stood up, laughed, and walked out of the glaring light.
Yes, my dear host, I AM the Lord of the Abyss ...
( Disclaimer: I own none of the characters and plot devices in the above story.
Jackie Estacado, Jimmy the Grape, the Darkness, and the Franchetti mob are from the video game, The Darkness, published by Majesco Entertainment, and based on a comic series of the same name created by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis and David Whorl, and produced by Top Cow Productions. )
( And yes all my stories are cliffhangers. I will continue with them some time in the future, but no promises yet. Meanwhile ... please comment !