All the townsfolk fled when Boris arrived with his head beneath his arm. He was falling to pieces. Despite the wrenching fear in my stomach I approached.
By the wizard gods! He was detestable. Worms had already done their dirty work through most of his body. Sickly fluids oozed from here and there. Rotten stitches embellished his saggy skin like grisly tattoos. Don't know why, but I was attracted like a magnet.
He was the neatest thing I ever laid eyes upon. Boris inspired awe and was equally awful. But I come from a strange family and I'm young, so I lean to awful things like most boys my age do.
Boris lumbered towards the center of town and I fell in pursuit softly. All of a sudden his arm fell off. Plop; just like that. The detached head that had been beneath dropped earthward with a slurpy sound.
As luck would have it, the accursed thing bounced and settled at my feet. I felt the overwhelming urge to bolt. But some strange idea or emotion held me like glue. I couldn't even blink.
Some things make me stare no matter how hideous.
Those glassy eyes made a squish sound and rolled around in their infected sockets until they focused in my direction. Who can say why but I did. I lifted the rotting head and cracked a nervous smile. Like my mouth had a mind of it's own. Then I noticed...whew, did he stink!
I wanted to throw it as far as I could and never look back, but something just wouldn't allow it. Instinct? Terror? Courage?
I glanced at the headless body stumbling over rocks. The thing sloshed like it was full of ale, staggered, and fell chest down onto the cobblestone road. A trail of slime and ooze burped around it. The one remaining arm on the body flailed to its fall and only succeeded in cracking itself at a bone.
The site was so disgusting I could only laugh to keep from messing my leggings.
Yuck! Bugs moved around in the black ooze like globs. How the hell could I feel what I was feeling? Pity for a monster from the darkest recesses of nightmareland. I think this half revulsion and half inkling to help allowed me to see past the bad habits and hygiene of Boris.
I set the offensive head beside its squirming one armed torso. The gruesome head popped its jaw and made a sound.
The head sneered and a wicked voice croaked from the hole even though I could see the ground through it, "Get away, Boy!"
I stepped back shocked that it could talk at all. I understood then and there why the townsfolk fled at first sight of this Boris monster.
Down right scary didn't do him justice. Some new word of vile disgust would fall short of putting a finger on it. Why did I not run? Guess I'll never really know.
I watched the body wiggle, rock, and roll trying to pry itself away from gravity. It looked like one of the marsh turtles when they get stuck on their backs.
Tentatively, I offered a hand.
The eyes squished around and looked at me. I stepped back upon contact. But the body reached out and took my hand without the head's protest. It felt like touching a wet snail. He forced himself upright and screwed his head onto the neck bones peeking up from the blackish stump. I said, "That won't stay if you move at all."
He then picked up the lost arm and grumbled.
I said, "Never get that back in..."
He glared at me and felt around in the socket for a solution. He did his best to jam it in. I laughed aloud when it flopped back out. His eyes found me again and I stifled with a gulp.
He stuffed it harder but the arm fell once more. He growled and shoved the limb on his bony back inside a row of torn stitches.
I said, "Now you need a flag to hang on it."
He turned towards me and his head took off again. But this time Boris caught it as it fell. He spat and shoved the head beneath his arm and plowed away from me.
I couldn't help but laugh again. He was like a zombie clown. He turned hearing me and menaced, "What is so funny?" I heard him curse beneath a breath and then, "You'd best be out of my sight before I roast you over a fire pit, little boy."
I held the chuckle back afraid that if I riled him up more body parts would go flying. I suddenly realized something that I could do for him. I said, "My dad used to call me his warrior because I am big boned. He used to call me moose."
Boris turned and moved away as fast as his creaky legs would carry. He heard me coming up from behind and said, "That's nice. A little more than I needed to know, but nice. Now get away from me!"
I frowned and followed, "You look like you need help. Remember, I'm strong. And I have a secret."
Boris carefully kept ahead, "How could you possibly help me, boy? I am the terrible tyrant destroyer of worlds. You are a boy with wet pants."
I didn't like the idea but I said it anyway, "Want me to carry your head, or something?"
Boris stopped and changed direction trying to lose me. He moved as fast as he could, almost jogging by my standard. I matched him with hardly any effort and watched his legs intently because one looked ready to go the other direction than the rest of him.
I said, "Where you going?"
He froze and stomped his foot. He whirled to face me. I heard a nasty "crack" and one leg remained facing the opposite way. Boris growled and shifted his torso until the renegade limb whipped around with a disturbing "pop."
I said, "Ouch."
Boris was agitated. He warned, "I do not need you tailing me, boy. Leave me be before I get angry and start destroying everything!" Boris lumbered away from me again, sure he'd discouraged my cat and mouse game.
He didn't. I strode with him step for step. Soon Boris realized I was still in tow. He stopped and asked, "Which way are you going, boy?"
I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Whichever way you are. I like you. Want to be my friend?"
Boris frowned. He pointed the head under his arm to the sky and said, "Give me strength oh master!" He started off once more and warned, "I have no friends boy, I killed them all! And unless you want to end up the same as them, shoo off!" He pried open his grungy pant pocket and angled the head around to look inside, "I think I have a biscuit in here somewhere."
Guess what. I followed anyway. I said, "I know where there's magic thread that will put your arm back on. Your head too. It's in a place that only I know. Well, me and my family."
Boris tried his best to go faster and growled, "Be off with you before I put the curse of hell raining fire upon your entire village!"
Matching his pace I said, "You can't do that. No one's around to hear it. I live with witches. I know some rules. Besides, if you could work magic you wouldn't have body parts falling off like apples from a tree."
Boris stopped dead stride and growled, "Oh yeah?"
I laughed and said, "Yeah."
He turned and whacked me with his head. Guess I was a little too close. Boris mumbled, "Serves you right creeping up on me like a lost puppy. Isn't there a deep hole you can go play in somewhere?"
I said, "Magic."
He snarled, "Oh yeah, the curse of hell raining fire..." Boris set his head onto his neck bone once again where it wobbled like a gin drunk. He chanted gibberish.
I grinned, "That's a nursery poem."
He saw me giggling and growled, "Ah, forget it." Boris tucked his head back under his arm and stormed off determined to leave me in the dust.
I said, "You're not so scary. Why didn't the villagers just hit you with sticks? It didn't make sense. They were awfully superstitious to have just run off.
Boris chopped my thoughts off at the stump like he could read my mind. "How do you think my head came off? They hung me in a rat loving town just like this bloody one. Backwoods cretins. Worked my damned head loose! I'm not a bit happy about it. Not at all. But they paid. Oh yes, they paid. Boris cannot be killed! Now I am angry."
Here I was walking and talking with a body carrying its head under its last good arm. He boasted invulnerability. I observed aloud, "If you are so powerful why are your parts dropping off?"
He screwed his brows together and spat again. I ran ahead of him and waved my arms. I said, "I won't let you leave like this. I know the thread will put you back whole. I told you I live with witches. I know these sort of things. Besides, you're my friend now. I have to help you."
One of his crinkled brows fell, his curiosity finally tickled.
I promised, "Honest. I'll help you fix yourself."
Boris scratched his chin in thought. His tone suddenly darkened. He growled, "If you are lying I will devour your soul, little one. For I am the walking dead! I am Boris! He who has haunted nightmares for a thousand years. I am the evil that can never be stopped. You've never seen nor heard of a vengeance like mine!"
I felt like peeing my pants, but did my best to hide it from him. He did have me spooked pretty good. I gulped and rinsed away my fear with a bar of bravery soap.
I said, "No lies. Come on, this way."
To my surprise he followed me down the wooded path which cut through the forest to my house. There we found my grandmother waiting outside. She knew we were coming. She knew everything. Granny stroked one of her many black cats with one crooked hand as the other clutched a glowing ball of golden yarn.
Boris gasped, "Magic thread, you told the truth, boy!"
My grandmother cackled. Boris stepped at her. She forced a tree root to grab his foot and rip his leg from it's socket. He dropped to the ground in broken pieces. Granny grinned and said, "Oh dear, would you look at him. Not much like a monster anymore. More like a sack of worms."
I ran to Boris angry with my grandmother. Grandmother shot me a peppery look. She spat out a wad of brown chewing leaf right into our cooking cauldron.
I thought Boris was gross.
Grandmother snorted and said, "Glad I snatched that ghost kitten last week. Lucky for you, it was all tangled up in this ball of magic yarn. I heard from the birdies that something would be coming 'round here lookin' for some."
Boris frowned. He growled, "Ghost kitten? What deviltry is this? Magic yarn? Just give me the thread so a wizard can sow my head back on and then I'll come back and..."
Grandmother spat into the cauldron again and tossed the black cat into the air. It disappeared in a puff of smoke with a hiss and a thunderbolt. She cackled enjoying the confrontation. Like Boris was a toy for the moment. He never once took his eyes off the glowing thread. I could see his scattered limbs spasm helplessly. I gathered the nasty appendages into an orderly pile and placed his head on top wincing at the colony of maggots and flies.
Grandmother whacked me in the butt and said, "It'd be best, young man, if you went about your chores instead of toying with monsters." She then tossed the glowing thread onto Boris. The golden yarn disappeared in a flash of brimstone and smoke. Boris and I heard her cackle wildly for quite some time. She was always so dramatic. Witch to the end. Old school. Newts eyes, lizard guts, bat testicles, and such.
I looked at Boris and said, "Well?" Boris frowned and drool trickled from the corner of his mouth. I said, "I told you I would help you fix yourself." Boris sighed and crinkled his brows impatiently.
With a sudden flash of light Boris was made new. He stretched, smiled, and laughed a sickening sort of rattle. A thin gold light ran around the magic thread binding him together. He exclaimed, "I feel better than the day I was made!" His rotten teeth glistened in the sunlight. He said, "This is the best I've felt in ages!"
I smiled like a butcher's dog.
Boris said, "Boy, never thought I'd ask this, but how can I repay you?" I shrugged still grinning ear to ear. Joy was entrenched in his face. He scratched himself thoroughly and said, "Wait. I think I know! Close your eyes lad."
I sort of did but managed to peek through a cracked eyelid. Boris moved a finger into his eye socket, but before he could do anything he saw flaming torches approaching up the wooded path.
Gruff shouts struck my ears. I opened my eyes and saw his alarm. I said, "You have to run, it's the villagers. They've come to kill you Boris."
Boris crashed into the woods without a word moving more like a living person. I watched him until he disappeared into the trees. Seconds later a mob of angry townfolk burst onto my family's land. They shoved me to the ground shouting about accursed witches. I heard Boris yelp and the mob roared into the woods after the sound. Soon the whole thing became a blur of fiery torches and yells.
Just then Boris crashed back into our clearing with a big snake clamped onto his butt. He exclaimed, "Rats, I've gone in a bloody circle!" He kicked a tree and cracked a toe. A lost look set itself firmly in his bloodshot eyes.
Without hesitation I said, "Come on! I'll show you the way!" Together we charged into the woods. I kept him away from the blazing torches. Finally we broke into open countryside and Boris exhaled deeply. There was no sign nor sound of the villager mob.
He looked down at me and said, "I owe you, boy. You are indeed a brave warrior, as your father said. He must be a proud man."
I couldn't stop the tear and sniffle as I missed my father more than anything ever. I said, "He's been gone a while Boris."
Boris dipped his head and wiped one tear off my cheek with a grubby finger. He whispered, "I am sorry lad." I shook spiders out of my hair that had gotten attached in our flight through the webbed trees.
I looked at Boris and said, "Oh dear." One of his eyes drooped out of its socket. I pointed, "Ewww." He tucked it back into the skull hole and turned away suddenly ashamed.
I said, "You have to keep going, Boris. Before they see you."
A tiny droplet of green fluid rolled down his cheek. I felt my own eyes go watery once more. Boris choked for a moment and said, "Though I may be walking dead, I have honor. Alas, I have nothing to give you boy. No wait, I know."
Boris said, "I've been dead more than a thousand years and never have I been prepared to give my secrets away. But to you child, I impart this. Some day you will know what to do with it. Keep it with you always. Hidden."
Boris turned away from me. I heard his voice go soft, "This is for you, boy."
Boris plucked his jaw off, stuck one hand into his head, and pulled it back out offering forth a handful of slimy brains squirming with black roaches!
I screamed and dropped to the ground. I never saw Boris again. But I will never.... ever forget him. And even though the blasted thing smells worse all the time, I still have it with me. Someday I'll figure out what he meant.
(Excerpt chapter of future novel entitled "With Night Comes Screams" and Sequel to "Like A Monster" which appeared in the Halloween Oct 99 edition of Pablo Lennis:Magazine of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact.)