A/N: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeey look at that. Another story that isn't the three ones I'm already still in the process of working on! :D
All that aside, good buddy of mine named Lordoftheclowns (/u/1071787/lordoftheclowns) decided to do a short story collaboration this year for Halloween! We basically split the story in half; he wrote two scenes, while I wrote the other two. Was actually a rather fun and demented experiment between the two of us. ;)
He was fine. He was. Everything was fine. The middle-aged man grunted as he sat down in the booth, shifting around and looking around the diner. Couple cooks. Couple waiters and waitresses. Truckers, police officers, cross-country tourists stopping to get something to eat. It was all fine. Everything was fine. The middle-aged man grunted again and looked around his seat. Couple crumbs on the table. Small tear in the empty booth across from him. But no mysterious stains, no food on the floor. The middle-aged man smelled the air, relishing at the scent of hash browns and fried sausage, the enticing aroma of lamb meat being grilled over a stove for someone's gyro, fresh bread being baked in an oven. All if it was commonplace; he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. It wasn't as though someone—
The man grunted again. He sniffled and scratched the back of his scalp, grimacing and feeling like something was crawling around in his skull. But he was fine. Everything about him was fine. Tattoo was still on his left arm. Hair was still all over his limbs, belly, and chin, although his scalp was bare. Lifting up his gray T-shirt, the man grumbled, taking note of the weight he was gaining. He exhaled and lowered his shirt before tapping his fingers against the table. The waitress arrived at his table—
Scowling, the man kept scratching the back of his head, dragging his nails just above his nape, hoping he'd break the skin. All morning that itch had been nagging him, scraping around his insides, almost—
"Sir? Your coffee?"
The man stopped scratching himself and looked at the mug of coffee sitting next to him. Then he looked up at the waitress wearing her apron and holding a pencil and notepad in her hands and chuckled.
"Sorry," the man replied. "Rough morning. Thank you."
The waitress nodded and smiled. "Burger should be ready in a few minutes, sir."
As soon as the waitress walked away, the man took his mug of coffee and drank from it, letting the hot fluids soothe his throat. He set the cup down and took a long breath, leaning back in his booth and folding his arms.
You're fine, Lester. Everything is fine.
Lester inhaled sharply as he leaned forward against the table, scratching the back of his head again. He felt his stomach churning and Lester groaned, unsure of what was happening with his brain, with his internal organs. He didn't feel like he needed to loosen his bowels, nor was it some case of indigestion or heartburn. But his head wouldn't stop itching, and now his stomach wouldn't stop hurting. Lester sucked on her teeth for a moment before the waitress returned with a plate, carrying his burger.
"Here you go, sir—"
"Thanks," Lester replied, almost interrupting the woman.
As soon as the waitress walked away, Lester grabbed the cheeseburger and started biting into it. He chewed. He swallowed. Everything was fine. He was eating now—that was the problem. He was just hungry; that's why his stomach was bothering him. Once all of the food was in his belly—
Slamming the burger down, Lester closed his eyes and ran his nails against the back of his head so rapidly that he almost broke the skin. He knew part of his light skin was probably red now, but it didn't matter. After coughing twice, Lester drank some more coffee and went back to consuming his burger.
"I SAID EAT."
The fuck you think I'm doing? Lester thought.
It would stop soon. That voice. That thing in his mind—it would stop soon. It had to. He was doing what the voice kept demanding. Lester swallowed hard before sniffling and taking another bite of the burger. As he chewed on the beef, bread, and cheese, he stopped. A minute ago he was eating a hamburger. But now the burger was…pale. Raw even. The buns looked purplish, stringy, almost like a coagulation of tentacles. Lester opened his mouth and retched, shutting it quickly so he wouldn't vomit all over the table. He wasn't consuming a hamburger. The meal in front of him was an abomination packed between two artificial pink buns that looked like a human's mucus membrane. Reddish-yellow goop was dripping from within the burger, but it definitely didn't smell like mustard or ketchup; it was far too watery. Something thin was smashed between the purplish tentacles and the membrane bun, almost like a chunk of a pickle. But the pickle in question flopped against the plate, and it started to secrete bitter-smelling fluids. Two small stalks no thicker than toothpicks grew on the top bun, each stalk squelching and hissing, sounding like flesh frying in a pan.
Lester whimpered again when the stalks stopped growing, and the tips of them became round and bulbous, like a set of olives. The glowing red orbs bubbled for a moment, and then a thin layer of skin shifted, opening itself up to reveal two black pupils staring directly at Lester. He examined the burger completely again, and was confident he was looking at a mashed-up face composed of food. Or rather, a jumbled-up mess of flesh.
The burger squished a few times, and Lester's right hand began to shake. That itch in the back of his head began to spread, like a trickle of water. Itching, spreading, contaminating, corrupting, grinding away against all of his nerves. The burger burbled, the artificial eyeballs blinking slowly and staring at Lester.
Lester did what any normal person would do: smashed the burger with his fist as though it were a cockroach on the table. Panting, Lester lifted his burly fist and looked down at the cheeseburger. There was no tentacles, no eyeball stalks, no pale membrane stretched out covering artificial meat. It was only two buns, cheese, and flattened beef. Lester flicked his eyes around the diner, taking note of a couple people awkwardly looking at him. Embarrassed, Lester quickly took out a ten-dollar bill and left it on the table. He hurriedly stood up and headed for the exit, not making eye contact with anyone. When he exited the building, he groaned as the itching returned above his nape.
"Later," Lester snarled, as he began to walk out of the diner's parking lot.
"I'll eat later," he whispered, his stomach still growling even after consuming half of a cheeseburger.
Everything is fine.
Lester tried to ignore the fiery itch under his skin as he waited, his clammy palms folded upon his quivering lap, in the bus stop shelter. A dirty pane of glass surrounded him on all sides of the world saving the sliding doorway, an advertisement for seasonal Hershey's Kisses plastered on the pane next to Lester's seat. He felt the itch like a bonfire crackling incessantly under his skin.
Don't scratch it. Please don't scratch it.
He resisted the temptation to do it in public. There would be time, maybe, in private; for now, he needed to bottle it up and made sure nobody saw him like this.
There was another itch—not quite the fire in his neck—that told him if somebody looked too closely at this, he wouldn't be able to restrain himself.
"Shut the fuck up," Lester quickly snapped, smacking the side of his head against the glass pane suddenly and withdrawing.
Momentary pain aside, the ensuing dizziness was a welcome reprieve from the itch in the back of his neck. He saw a crack in the glass of the bus stop shelter, now, from where he'd smashed his head. Lester grunted and shambled out of the shelter, out toward the street. The sun would still be up for a few hours yet. Lester had clocked out of the dead-end job at the registry half-an-hour ago at five sharp; he couldn't tolerate the musty smell of bad air conditioning and the sight of the same automobile calendars and semi-ironic "hang in there!" kitten posters plastered all over the walls of the place. The place was sucking the life out of him, eight hours a day.
He needed replenishment.
The voice in his head twisted and gnarled, and Lester winced, grabbing the sides of his head again. He was right next to the public street, next to a four-way intersection; across the street was the Big Boy he'd had that grotesquerie of a burger, flocking with people in the parking lot and a family taking a picture next to the statue of the restaurant's checkered mascot. Cars ambled by with people going about their daily business, and Lester desperately attempted to avoid the attention of the drivers.
The itch warped again and Lester grabbed the back of his neck. He couldn't handle this. He wanted to step in front of the street, stop a car, talk to the driver, and bite into his warm—
"Shut—" Lester trailed off with a sharp hiss before looking down the street. He could see up ahead on around a bus, a two-digit transit number he squinted to see.
Please be 338. Please be 338. Please—
A pinch of relief swelled for a moment as he saw the number 338 upon the transit bus, which shrunk like a sad, deflating balloon as he saw the bus was also packed full of people. The bus lurched to a stop as Lester hung by the edge of the room, the two-way doors opening. Lester shuffled to the door, glancing back to the shelter and hoping the driver didn't notice the crack.
The bus driver was a surly, fat Latino man. He fixed Lester with a bored, fat-lipped look as Lester slid out his bus fare, trickling it into the fare box. That was the last of his spare change.
Lester turned and walked toward the end of the bus, seeing an empty seat at the very end corner of the bus. He passed through rows of unfamiliar faces, none of which gave him more than a sideways glance. He passed by an older woman with crudely-dyed red curls; two teenagers with bags full of glistening beer; a woman with a warm-blooded young child staring curiously at him with eyes of chewy jelly—
Lester wrenched his gaze away from the child and took his seat. He tried his level best to avoid making eye contact with anyone, placing the palm of his corpse-cold hand upon his neck in a fruitless attempt to stop the sizzling itch underneath his skin. He'd never liked being in stuffy transit buses like this, but seldom did anyone except perhaps children.
Now Lester absolutely despised it. He was starving, his mouth like a desert. He imagined perhaps there were a few other eyes on him during the bus ride. He couldn't bring himself to look at the other passengers on the bus.
That voice wouldn't shut up. That itch wouldn't stop. Annoyance had gone from terror; and in that terror was incomprehension.
He tried to keep his eyes out the window, or on the bus advertisements, but they were all formless words to him in the anxious moment he'd been placed in. His head felt woozy and the world around him was dizzy and numb. The most acute thing he felt was that damn itch. He tried to resist scratching, clawing out all the bad blood in the back of his neck.
His eyes wandered and they caught a glimpse of the other passengers close to him in the back. Lester saw, for all of a few seconds, the faces of everyone in the back turned to see him. Their heads had all rotated around unnaturally to see him—the girl two seats ahead of him had turned her head around like an owl—all with blank, dead expressions.
There was no light in their eyes. Their faces were like plastic. Watching him.
Lester averted his eyes again.
You're not hungry.
He was hungry, but he didn't want to eat any of the glass-eyed creatures on this bus.
Or innocent people. He couldn't tell which. He was aware, in some part of lucidity he'd retained in the haze of his itch, that perhaps he was going insane. Perhaps instead the world around him had lost its mind.
Doesn't matter. Just hold yourself. Hold yourself.
The voice lurking in his head seemed quiet. Lester knew it was still there, silent, biding its time somewhere in his head. It wouldn't leave so long as he was still hungry. He shut out the world around him for a second, closing his eyes.
"Are you alright?"
Lester's eyes snapped open. The man in the seat ahead of him, on the side of the bus, had leaned over. Lester was dimly aware of how he must have looked like, right now. He felt his face caked in perspiration, his T-shirt soaked. He felt like he was in a sauna, his face hot and his breath shallow.
"You look like you're about to have a heart attack," said the man in front of Lester. Lester tried to focus on him.
You're not fake.
Lester dared to look upon the man, and—he hoped—saw a human face looking back at him. He was a man perhaps around the same age as Lester, a black golf tee on, his short black hair a bit ruffled and his brown eyes inspecting Lester worriedly through a pair of frameless spectacles. He had the studious face of a man Lester envisioned enjoyed arithmetic and crunching numbers. "Do you have any sort of medication you're supposed to be taking?"
Lester gave a long and vacant look. "...Pardon?"
"Does it have anything to do with blood pressure?" said the man. "Your face. It's as red as a tomato."
Lester brushed away a thick layer of sweat. He was struggling to see the man for what he was. His eyes weren't plastic. His worry seemed genuine.
Lester swallowed back and prepared to reply—
—and almost choked on the sudden pulp in his throat before he spoke.
"No," he said, rather hoarsely. "No medication."
"You look like it, if you'll pardon my saying," said the man. He offered a smile. "My name is Wallace. Do you have a phone? Should you be calling anybody?"
Lester's heart was thumping more rapidly than usual—or it always had been beating that fast and he's never consciously known it.
It's fine. Just tell him you're okay. Just tell him you're not interested. Just take your eyes away from him and—
"EAT EAT EAT EAT EAT"
For reasons Lester feared to ponder at length, he smiled, awkwardly.
"Left my phone at home," he said. Wallace chuckled.
"Birds of a feather, then," he said, sliding his hand into the empty pocket of his jeans. Wallace glanced outside, suddenly pressing the button to signal the bus to stop as they started to come up to an apartment complex. "This is my stop. My phone's at home, too—if you need, man, maybe we can swing inside and you could place a call. You really don't look well."
"I don't want to trouble you," Lester managed, before his words cut off under the pulp of his throat again.
Lester felt helpless for a second. The itch was maddening, the hunger was overpowering, the urges were scorching within him. He felt as though he weren't in control of his own actions.
"Not any trouble," Wallace reassured as he stood up. "Come on. I'm just on the first floor."
Lester was hungry. That wasn't his fault.
"Sounds wonderful," he said, following Wallace outside.
Lester exhaled as he followed Wallace towards the apartment building. It was a standard building, a regular skyscraper made of brick, steel, bloody windows, and body parts. The chubby man made his way towards the apartment building—
Wait…wait, this isn't right. Why are their body—
Lester looked at the apartment building again. The glass windows were cracked or open, but no blood was on them. There was, presumably, a homeless man sitting just a few feet away from the building, but he was fully conscious and alive. Grumbling, Lester felt that same itch against the back of his neck. He had to grab his right hand with his left just to force himself not to pick at it. Wallace walked over to the apartment's main entrance and stepped inside. Lester coughed twice, folding his arms and struggling not to look like some drug addict going through withdrawal symptoms. Once inside, Lester huffed as Wallace made his way to his apartment.
"Hey, so, this isn't time sensitive, is it? It's not like you need to take medication or else you'll plop on the floor and die?"
Shaking his head, Lester said, "No. Nothing that serious. It's just, um…you know—weather changing! That and-and like you said…blood pressure. Been gaining weight. You know—all the basic stuff…yeah."
Wallace scratched his head and turned away from Lester, trying not to panic over the disheveled state he appeared to be in. After taking out his keys, Wallace unlocked the front door and opened it up.
Lester inhaled sharply as he and felt his neck stinging again, as if bees were repeatedly poking against his skin. He started to drag his nails against his skin for a moment when he noticed that Wallace was looking at him again.
"What's up with your neck?" Lester asked.
Lester stopped scratching. "Nothing! Nothing—I'm fine. Just…where's your phone again?"
"Bedroom. Gimme a couple minutes; I'll be right out."
"Okay cool, thanks. Um—"
"EAT, LESTER. NOW."
"Where's your bathroom?"
"Down that hall—"
Nearly sprinting, Lester made his way to the lavatory, opening up the door and slamming it shut. He turned on the light and found himself standing in front of the mirror, his face still red as more sweat kept forming around his head. Panting, Lester immediately turned on the water faucet, watching as the cool water started to gush out of the faucet. He bent down and started to consume the fluids and splashed some of it against his face, moments before he shut his eyes and let out a huge breath. For a few seconds, the pain in his skull and the itching sensation around his neck was gone, and Lester thought that he was feeling okay again. The pain was only short-lived, like a toothache that had come and gone. Sighing, Lester lowered his hands and opened his eyes again. He regretted that decision instantaneously.
Staring right back at him in the mirror was a horrific abomination. He thought about what happened earlier with the hamburger, but it was far worse now. The creature staring back at him through the mirror didn't have skin. It had grayish-red sores and fuzz all over its face, complete with holes on the surface that would make anyone suffering from trypophobia have a panic attack. His bald scalp was sprouting tiny appendages, like small weeds or fungi emerging from a putrid swamp. His eyes were orange now, with no pupils, and there were tiny divisions cut into the surface of each eyeball, each orb had been sliced into eighths, ready to be divided. Lester reached up with his right hand and scratched at his right cheek. The entire slab of skin and flesh peeled away from his head, sounding like an orange getting peeled very slowly with fingernails. The hand in question didn't consists of five fingers and nails, but rather five purple tentacles that writhed around on their own, each with a set of suckers on them that looked strong enough to cling to any surface.
"YOU MUST EAT, LESTER."
Even when the voice talked, Lester saw his mouth moving in the mirror. But the mouth was grinning widely, and the teeth inside said mouth were sharp enough to put a box cutter's blade to shame. The tongue was long and purple, almost like some kind of reptile's. It, too, was covered in small holes that were all closely packed together like a deformed beehive. Frustrated, Lester howled in frustration and punched the mirror. In the blink of an eye, the reflection in the mirror changed, and he could see his regular chubby, bald-headed body clad in normal clothes—albeit, through a broken mirror. Everything seemed perfectly normal as he looked at his body through the glass. Which made it all the more concerning when Lester looked down at his right arm and saw the same grotesque imagery he saw before he broke the glass. He murmured questionably as he gazed upon the holes in his rotting skin, as he wiggled his fingers and saw tentacles in their place, as he stuck out his tongue and was shocked to see that it was purple and almost a foot long.
It wasn't real. None of it was. Everything was just a series of images locked away in his head. His eyes were lying to him. The mirror was lying to him. The voice was certainly lying to him. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't a deformed abomination. He just…he just needed to go home and lie down, and maybe—
"You okay in there?" Wallace asked.
The pondering suddenly stopped, and Lester exhaled as he slowly opened the bathroom door a crack, not wanting to reveal the broken mirror. He spotted Wallace smiling and holding up his cell phone.
"Hey, just wanted to let you know that—"
Lester snatched the phone and nodded. "Thanks. I'll-I'll give it back shortly."
Slamming and locking the door before Wallace could answer, Lester turned around and started to pace back and forth. He looked at the cell phone in his hands and pressed down on the "9" key with one tentacle. Then he pushed the "1" key with another tentacle. He hit the "1" key again—
Lester yelped as he dropped the phone and fell to his knees, eyes shut. The command was so loud that it temporarily destroyed Lester's sense of hearing. Everything went deathly silent, to the point where he couldn't even hear the faint ringing in his ears. Huffing and grunting, Lester tried to stand back up, only to hear a faint sizzling noise. This was followed by wet squelches and a colossal pang around his cranium. It almost seemed like someone or something was melting his brain, and it was slowly oozing out of his ears. Eyes back open, Lester looked at his hands and arms again. They were still misshapen, full of holes, and plainly revolting to look at.
As if a switch went off that adjusted his attitude, Lester calmly picked up the phone, stood up, opened the bathroom door, and walked outside. He made his way into the kitchen, and then walked into the living room, where he noticed that Wallace was turning on the television and starting to relax in his recliner. Lester cleared his throat to get Wallace's attention, causing the bespectacled man to turn around.
"Yeah, yeah, here's your phone back," Lester responded, handing the phone over to Wallace.
Wallace stood up and retrieved his phone, before looking down at Lester's right hand and spotting another item of his. He frowned.
"The hell are you doing?"
"I'm handing you your phone back. What else—"
"Why do you have my hammer?"
Lester looked down at his right hand. Wrapped around his tentacle-fingers was a standard hammer he forgot he even picked up. Blinking, Lester looked up at Wallace, watching as the man scowled suspiciously and took a step backwards. As nice as Wallace was, he was no fool. He looked down at his phone and noticed Lester already dialed 911. Before he could push the "Send" button on his phone, Lester violently swung the hammer at Wallace's head, causing him to shout. He collapsed to the floor with a heavy thud, with a small patch of blood already forming near Wallace's left temple. Still and stoic, Lester stared at the man's body, before he crouched down and placed two fingers against his throat. He wasn't dead, but it looked like the man wouldn't be waking up for some time. Judging by the lack of a wedding ring, and no family photos on the walls, Wallace lived alone. Smiling and feeling his eyes watering, Lester gazed at Wallace's body as the voice in his head burgled gently.
Still smiling, Lester nodded as tears began to run down his face.
Lester was there, staring intently, as Wallace began to regain consciousness. He positioned himself just so, just a foot away from Wallace, so that his silhouetted form in the darkened apartment was the first thing Wallace saw when his eyelids slid up.
Wallace's head had been wrapped in a bloodstained bandage. Lester was privately thankful he'd found even that much offhand, tucked underneath Wallace's faucet. Right now he watched with a strange and curious expression on his face as Wallace started to struggle against the bonds Lester had bound him in. Wallace's journey back to full consciousness—more than Lester had honestly expected, after the hammer blow—was hastened by the growing panic that he was now a prisoner within his own home.
The lights were off. Lester didn't want to see the expression on his victim's face as he came to consciousness, and much less did he want to see the horrible, twisted imagery he'd been seeing.
Or hallucinating. It scarcely made a difference right now, though.
"Please don't," Wallace suddenly murmured, in a sad, defeated voice, an unexpected first noise from him. Lester remained still as a harsh, pained grunt and a sob escaped him. "You got me. Okay. Please don't hurt me. I've got—I've got almost ten-thousand in the bank, right now—"
"Sorry," Lester cut off, looking away. Wallace cut off. For a second, all Lester could hear was another, suppressed sob. "I'm sorry," Lester repeated. "Won't help. Never does."
"I'll do anything you want," Wallace begged, quietly hysterical. "Anything. I won't—I won't report a thing you do. Just, God, please, don't hurt me..."
"It's not about hurting you," Lester said, under his breath. He himself was on edge, nervous and sweaty again. He waited for the visions to kick in, to peel out from the darkness, but they never did; and though he waited on the edge of his own seat, the voice in the darkest room of his mind was silent. "It's never been about hurting anyone. I don't... I don't know how to explain it, man. I really, really don't."
Wallace sobbed. Lester hated it, hated himself for feeling a growl in his stomach as he listened to it.
"I'm not like you," Lester admitted, feeling weak for doing so. "Not really. Um. Do you have a voice in your head? An incessant one? It's kind of like that. Kind of."
"You're psychotic, man," Wallace bawled. "Y-you're a fucking lunatic!"
"No," Lester said—almost calmly, for a second, before his face pinched in pain again at how this had all become normalized to him. His response was not defense, nor denial. It was mere, cool statement of fact. "It's not like that, Wallace. It's different. I'm beyond that. You couldn't—you really couldn't understand."
Lester almost dared to make out Wallace's features in the darkness. Then he pulled away, again, as he always did—like futile respect.
"It's not right," Lester said. "I know. I can't help it, Wallace. What do you feel right now? Is it terror? I've never felt it before. Are you angry? I could understand that a bit better, maybe. Wallace... just tell me here, honestly. How do you feel here? Right now, where you are, in this position?"
"...W-what?" Wallace stammered.
"It won't help," Lester said, with a sad sigh. "I'm not asking this because it would help you. If questions would help you, fuck's sake, I'd put you on Jeopardy. I'm asking this so I can have leftovers."
"Leftovers? What the fuck are you talking about, leftovers?!"
Lester gripped the back of his neck again. He grit his teeth, felt the rustling underneath his skin and the crackling in his ears dimly starting up. The fire underneath the nape of his neck was pulling, strongly, but he was resisting the lure until the time it came he couldn't any longer.
"He—it—doesn't care about leftovers, Wallace," Lester said, almost desperately. "See, Wallace? That's a leftover. Your name. I'm calling you by your name and I'll remember your name. I always want there to be something left to put away, in a manner of speaking. Whoever you are, Wallace, whatever you're into—nothing's going to be left of you by sunrise if you don't speak now. No name. No records. No job history. This apartment will be completely empty. Your family members won't notice you're gone—and they won't notice your name missing in their phone books, and their family albums, and their picture frames. No employer will remember you. No photo will show your face. You'll be devoured, Wallace—obliterated, if that's the right word. That's what it—we—do."
Wallace was absolutely silent for a second. He seemed to have stopped crying, though why Lester couldn't tell.
The itch was kicking back up. Lester felt insane with hunger for a fleeting second before he pulled himself to the surface again.
"I know how scared you must be, Wallace," Lester said. "I can't see your face. Does that make me a coward? Does that term even matter? I don't know. I hope it does, really, but it doesn't make a difference. Wallace—listen to me. Tell me about yourself. Who are you? What do you do?"
"I-I..." Wallace begun. His stammering almost collapsed entirely into inarticulate mumbling and half-formulated words.
"Come on, Wallace," Lester said, with a genuine note of desperation. "Please. There's not much time left."
"...M-my name is Wallace Okazawa," Wallace begun in a shivering, fragmented voice. "I... I... I like fishing? Is that—is that what you want?"
"What was your biggest catch?"
Wallace was silent. "...Ten pounds. S-smallmouth bass. This big, fat gray thing..."
"Catch or release?"
"N-never could've eaten it myself. Chucked it back."
Lester put a hand to his head, grimacing in pain as an electric hum started in his frontal lobe.
"...Thank you, Wallace," Lester managed. If he could have smiled, he would have—but a gesture like that prefacing what was to follow would only make things cruel. The best there ever could be was to-the-point and brutally honest.
Wallace's shuddering voice came out after three precious seconds had already elapsed. "P-please tell me you'll let me live a bit longer. I told you what you wanted. Please, I already—"
The thunderous voice took over everything else. Lester knew Wallace was still talking, begging and pleading as he went to turn on the light to see what he was doing—almost felt Wallace kicking and thrashing in his grip as he came over to adjust Wallace's position—but everything was already tuned out. Lester was no longer looking at Wallace's face, couldn't see the tears painting it, couldn't hear the long howl of agony as he drilled the first three holes into the front of Wallace's skull, just far enough to penetrate the skull cap, and set the screws in nicely.
Wallace was still alive when Lester assumed the full five feet from Wallace, but his mouth was no longer moving in shock. His eyes were bulging and vacant, blood soaking his entire face—and Lester paid no attention, twitching as the inside of his head began to burn.
Lester saw the room changing into a plethora of phantasmagoric geometries—the walls buzzed a bit as though covered in a layer of resting cockroaches, the floor sank in and out like a pulsating ear flap matched with the rapid pulsations of his heart, twitching in and out of reality like a tape glitching between frames—and he took in a shallow breath. The screws in Wallace's skull were shaking, violently again, Wallace's catatonic head jiggling and his head lolling about loosely.
Then Lester felt the other mouth open—the one with no jaws, no teeth, and an endless throat—and pitched forward. Wallace's head jerked up for a second, and stayed rigid as though nailed into place by the screws. Lester felt his head burning, the other mouth swallowing, and the strangest sense of satisfaction come over him.
Always like a glass of ice water on a hot summer's day. That was what he hated most about it.
After ten seconds, the back of Wallace's head started to bubble, rivulets of fresh blood running out of his nose and eyes to intermix with the rest of the blood coating his face. As soon as the hunger had been quenched, the other mouth closed and Wallace slumped lifeless in his bonds, his head dangling over his body, dripping blood.
Lester pulled his gaze away to respect the dead man. That was it—the next thing the voice in his head said sealed it.
"Fuck you," Lester muttered. He sighed, morosely. "Go away. I want to get back to my life."
There was a sickening pause—then the voice spoke again, for the first and last time.
"Good night, Lester."
It was gone. The itch in the back of his neck vanished. The visions no longer played at the corners of his eyes. He felt as though something had left him, for a second, cherished the deja vu as he always did, and remembered now that it was merely dormant, quenched for the next indeterminate while.
Lester hated to say it, but in a strange way he could never have hoped to truly describe to Wallace, or through the English language, Wallace had been delicious. There was a plump ego to Wallace that Lester had never could have guessed to see on the surface level, but it was hidden like custard underneath a donut; buried under soft, creamy layers of insecurity and invalidation, seasoned with vinegary, self-loathing bitterness for his current situation, a sweet-and-sour pang of envy for his more successful older brothers off in Washington; lovingly cooked under forty-three years of negligence and a refusal for self-improvement. In the final moments there had been sugar, the soothing pleasure of a mistreated soul extending his hand in aid to a stranger.
There was, indeed, in the smorgasbord of personal interests Lester had just savored, a fishy aftertaste.
Lester left the building, and decided he was going to go fishing on the Toledo Bend. No use in savoring a good meal without the leftovers.