Jerry’s Left Hand by Ryan Danhauser
This story was a rejected submission from Midian Unmade. Do you have rejected story you submitted for the anthology? Share it with us, and we’ll post it here.
Jerry’s Left Hand
By Ryan Danhauser
Ann had only been home five minutes when the doorbell rang. She looked down at the floor for two seconds, ran her hands through her long, blonde hair, set Kenny in his booster seat to start eating his dinner, and went to the door. It often took all her energy to keep Kenny happy until his bed time, and it could be a little frustrating to try to keep track of him while talking to whoever this might be at the door. It rang again, and they knocked insistently at the same time the bell was still ringing. “That’s annoying..” She muttered. She undid the deadbolt and opened the door.
The first thing she saw when she opened the door was a revolver in her face. Was this a joke… No, it’s not funny. Something like this could not ever be funny. If it wasn’t a joke, then — Oh, god. Kenny!
“Let us in, miss.” The voice behind the gun said. It was a low, contemptuous growl. It was — just below a whisper. He wore a faded black T-shirt with holes in it. The man’s face was pock-marked, and his head shaved. As they backed into the house, another man came in behind. He shut the door and turned the deadbolt behind him. The second man, she saw, had dyed black hair and wore a gray sweat-shirt.
“What? What do you want?” Her mind raced, there had to be a way to get these guys out of the house, get them away from Kenny!
“We know you’re hiding it in here. Where is it? We don’t want to spend all night tearing this place apart, and we know you don’t want us to do that either. Boss says the breed isn’t here, but the god… The god is here somewhere. Part of him anyway.” He moved over to Kenny, pointed the gun at him… At the two-year old in his chair. “Find it for us, now.”
Ann’s thoughts raced, her mind boiled. Hate — all she could feel was hate and death. How could she leave Kenny there? But how could she not? Letting these people keep control was the worst plan, because life seemed cheap to them. It took all of her will, but she went to the spare room.
“Go with her!” He yelled to the hooded man.
“I don’t take orders from you, asshole.”
Shaved head man pointed the gun at his partner. “Do it!”
“I’ll remember this, you piece of shit.” He grudgingly went to the spare room where Ann had already found what she was looking for. God, how would this work? She didn’t know when or if an opportunity would present itself, but she slipped the scissors into the pouch pocket of her sweat-shirt.
“Fucking ass-wipe…” He muttered as he came in. “So is it in here?”
“Maybe. What does it look like?”
“Jesus, you don’t know even what we’re looking for?” He yelled back to the guy with the shaved head, presumably still pointing his gun at Kenny. “She doesn’t know what to look for!”
“I can hear, dumb-ass!” He yelled back.
“Whatever…” He grumbled. “Like a a big potato sack, but wrapped around something.”
Ann slowly opened the door to the closet and turned on the light. She needed more time! She had no idea what they were looking for. It was probable that they even had the wrong house. What could she do? Maybe confusing them would help. “Something like this?” She showed him a cardboard mailing tube.
He jerked it from her. “Does this look like a fucking potato sack to you? Are you an idiot, or just trying to waste my time?”
“Sorry. Maybe under the bed?”
“Well go look then!” He looked back toward the door, then at her again. Pulling something out of his pocket. He swung it in a criss-cross pattern. The brass thing flipped back and forth in his hand, until it stopped. It was a butterfly knife.
Ann went down on her side beside the bed, wedged between it and the dresser and looked under. Of course it was exactly as she expected. There was just a tub there full of cloth and ping-pong balls — stuff Emmett used for making puppets in his spare time. “I think it’s in this tub, but it’s kind if wedged in there.”
“Let me look.” Ann got up and moved out of the man’s way. He did the same as Ann, lying on his side, he reached his hand under, keeping the knife in his other hand. “This thing comes out easy. What the hell are you…?”
Before he could finish, Ann was at him — she stabbed his left leg, then pulled the scissors out again. There was an arc of crimson. He yelled and dropped the knife. Ann reached for it with her other hand. She got it! … Then slashed his other ankle and proceeded to stab it into the meat of his thigh.
This time the man fought back. He caught her hand in his, and held her there. His mouth pinched shut, but the sweaty tic beneath gave lie to his confident facade. She twisted the knife and pushed it deeper. The man howled and let go of her hand. Ann brought the scissors down on what she thought would be the top of his head, but he looked up. Why did he have to look up? The scissors went straight into his eye and buried the tip somewhere into the skull beneath. Barely audible, he whimpered. Why was this happening to him? She pulled the brass-handled blade from his leg and stabbed him in the throat. She could not — would not be retrieving the scissors. Just then the man with the gun came in.
“Looks like I’ll have to look for this thing by myself. I won’t be needing you, or your kid anymore. Say goodbye to him.” It looked bad, she would have to act. At least he was away from Kenny, who was left crying at the kitchen table.
The man beneath her slumped, and the life abandoned him in rebellious spurts.
* * *
The wheel made a sharp turn, and Emmett almost pushed the button to open the garage door, but something was wrong. There was an itchy spot in the middle of his back began to almost vibrate. Not almost. It was vibrating. He got out of the car and walked toward the front door. The curtains were drawn, and there was shouting from inside — people he didn’t know. Oh god! he didn’t go in the garage, but Ann and Kenny would probably be in there too! If something was to be done, it was now. This was the time to call the authorities.
The vibration on his back changed, like a warm bath an unwelcome pleasure washed over him.
Let me help… A voice seemed to say. A voice that sounded, to Emmett, like a combination of a swarm of bees and whale-song. Every muscle tensed up, and the world washed away.
* * *
In the darkness, events presented themselves in quick, violent flashes. Arms and tongue (tongues?) stretched impossibly long, coming back slick and hot. There was a scream, too.
After a time, Emmett felt something pushing his nose. It was still dark, but then that was because his eyes were closed. He was lying face-down on the wooden floor. This was the hall in front of the spare room.
“Jesus, Emmett… What’s happening?” It was Ann who spoke. Ann with Kenny in one arm, and blood on her free hand.
Kenny was crying and Emmett stood up.
There were two men on the ground. There were two bloody men on the ground, who were dead.
The first had a shaved head, lying on his back. His hands were on the floor ten feet away, with smears of blood beneath them. Then there was a hole in his cheek and another in the top of his head.
The second was by the bed in the spare room. He had black hair — so black it could only have been dyed. There were scissors where his eye should be, and a second hole in his throat. His eye was open wide, his face pale and his tongue, poking out of his mouth to the side, was blue.
“That was me.” She said, shaking and pointing at the scissors.
“Daddy…” Kenny was concerned. “Daddy!” He yelled again.
“You changed. You were different. Who were these people?”
I can explain, but we have to leave right now. The voice (bees and whales again) was it just in his head?
“Did you hear that?” Emmett asked Ann.
“Yes I did. Of course I did. It came from you.”
Ann, you must gather everything you need in in the car. We have to leave. Emmett, go in the crawl space.
The hatch to the crawl space was in the closet. They didn’t like going down there, it was damp and unpleasant. They never kept anything in there.
Sorry, I’ve been hiding something from you.
He went down. There was an old foot-stool at the bottom to step on. He flipped on the light, and continued down onto the sandy floor.
Go toward the opposite corner.
Away from anything useful, away from the water meter and any place he would need to go, there was a burlap bundle. Emmett made his way to it. “Now what?” He asked as he started to unwrap it.
There’s no time for that. Bring it up, take it to the car.
It unnerved him more than a little that this voice was not just in he head. It spoke from his mouth. How could his voice sound like that? He had to trust it. It appeared that this thing had saved their lives. Emmett looked back at the bundle in his arms. How could he not have noticed this before?
Because I never let you see it. I put it there, and I kept you from looking at it to protect you. Go ahead and take it. And that’s my voice, my real, physical voice traveling along your vocal cords… like a telephone call.
“First, what are you?”
Put the package in the car, and I will give you the memory back. Then you’ll have your answer.
Emmett did as the voice asked.
Ann had already begun packing bags (first for Kenny, then herself) and loading the items in the back of the car. Her hands shook as she worked. Noticing this, she just worked harder and faster.
Emmett noticed, as he made his way to the garage, E a cold so intense that it burned, but there was pleasure in it too — a wave of endorphins. In his mind, Emmett floated to the garage, where the Subaru hatch was already open and Ann was loading some bags inside.
“What the hell is that?”
Put it in the car and I’ll show you. I’ll show you both.
Emmett did as the voice instructed, and as he set the package down, the contact broken, there was an ache to be with it again. Why would he feel this way? Without intending to, Emmett put his hand on Ann’s shoulder, and the two of them disappeared together, to a memory from over twenty years ago.
Like before, the world receded. They were there, in Emmett’s memory. He drove the old 1985 blue Thunderbird up the Alaska Highway on the long road between Vancouver and Whitehorse. They both recognized the trip immediately. The year they moved to Alaska from Washington State. They were going there for College together, with all their stuff in the trunk. Although they were lost in this memory, it still felt like watching a movie. They were observers, not participants.
“Can we switch drivers? I’m starting to get sleepy.” Emmett began pulling the car over.
“I guess you’ve decided already?”
“Oh, sorry. No, I have to go to the bathroom too.”
“Okay, well me too.” They went off in opposite directions, Emmett’s bladder felt tight as a drum, and it was a relief as he soaked the base of a pine tree for a good minute.
Something ahead made the brush swish and the branches crackle. He worried a little about bears. This was miles and miles of wild country, and it wasn’t inconceivable that he could be mauled by a bear or trampled by a moose. They had already seen four moose and two mountain goats along the road on this trip.
The thing came at him, and as he pushed aside the vegetation, it became clear that it was a man–scruffy, dressed in clothes that looked more like old rags. He had a tall bundle close to his chest, holding it there with one arm while the other arm dangled, bloody at his side. His face was pained. He had a long beard and his skin was unnaturally pale.
Emmett interrupted the memory. “That’s the bundle I just put in the car?”
The memory didn’t wait for discussion. The sickly man looked Emmett in the eyes and headed straight for him. “Please… Please help.”
“Oh, god, are you all right?” Emmett saw the man a little closer, and it wasn’t just his arm that was bloody. His pants were black with blood on the left side as well. There was something strange about the way he was walking. From his side there was a red-orange, insect-like leg, stepping where his own bloody leg stepped.
The man saw him looking at it. “Better than a crutch”, he grunted. Closing his eyes for a second as he stopped. “Now that I’m stopped, I don’t feel well. Not well at all.”
Emmett interrupted the memory again. “Why don’t I remember this?”
It’s there, but I’ve kept you from going to it.
“You’ve never told me any of this.” Ann added.
“I wish I had remembered.”
The memory continued. The man, his eyes closed, began to sway slightly. from the same side as the crustacean leg, another jutted out suddenly and connected with the ground. It steadied him and kept him from pitching forward. The man’s neck slumped, and he dropped his burden. A large crab-like pincer arm flew out of his shoulder-blade and expertly caught the bundle before it hit the ground.
Please take this! That voice! Emmett now recognized as the voice inside him.
Back in the memory, Emmett knew without understanding that this was something important. He took it. He should have felt fear, and maybe there was some of that in the rush of adrenaline he felt, but there was something else too. Emmett was awe-struck at this miracle before him, but he also felt concern for the poor teetering man.
Relieved of his burden, the man collapsed on the ground. The two legs and the claw withdrew into the body and disappeared. He twitched and convulsed. From the folds of the bloodied rags came a small, impossible thing. It’s eyes were black on two long stalks. There were six pointy legs on an elongated, almost slug-like body. The thing had two crab claws, it’s right was huge, and left was about one-third the size. The mouth was a vertical oval with tiny thorn-teeth, constantly extending and retracting.
“Wait, that’s you?” Although she was transfixed by the moment, Ann had to interrupt. “You’re a parasite?”
I’m a mutualist.
“Why humans? Why not some other kind of animal?”
Because humans can live two hundred-fifty to three-hundred years.
“No they can’t.”
You can, you just don’t. With a little house-keeping from me you’d be surprised what you’re capable of.
Back in the memory, the little crab on top of the man’s body grew. Impossibly it grew to ten times its original size. At this size Emmett was acutely aware that the larger of it’s pincers could cut him in half. He was transfixed. If he ran, that surely would provoke it, but was staying any better? They looked at each other for what seemed like an age, but was actually less than a minute.
Without even breaking eye-contact, and without warning one of the legs pointed at Emmett. It grew and telescoped toward him like a radio antenna. Although it stabbed through his shirt, the skin, flesh and bones beneath parted without pain, or blood, or violence. From inside, he could feel tiny cilia wrap around his spine. His worry melted.
Then the voice. The same voice he had just heard coming from the man. I’m happy to find you are not an invader. We’ve crossed paths by by happy accident. This time the voice spoke directly in his mind. Let me join with you. We combine our power into one. In return, you must protect the package. Emmett was still holding the bundle. Cradled low in his arms.
“What happened to him?”
More of your kind. Invaders have destroyed my home–my Midian. I removed most of the bullets from him, and was trying to repair the damage, but he lost too much blood.
“How long did he live?”
One hundred and seventy-seven years. We became great friends. It’s a kind of marriage.
Tears were close, even though he had never met this man, “I’m so sorry.”
Thank you. I don’t mean to burden you with my feelings. I’ve only just now come to the realization myself. We’ve traveled so far, thinking only of survival. It wasn’t my intention for you to grieve with me.
“I think… I think yes. But first, I need to know how dangerous it is, protecting this, whatever it is?”
We will be hiding, and I will protect you.
Emmett’s thoughts went to Ann. Yes, her too.
“Then I agree.”
That being said, the creature flung itself toward him, diminishing in size in mid-air and scrambling through the tiny hole it had made with its leg. The pseudo-wound closed with no mark or reminder that it had even been there in the first place.
The memory suddenly stopped, and they were back in the garage again, Kenny fussing in the car-seat.
The impossible voice was once again coming from Emmett’s mouth. From that moment on, I have protected you from the knowledge of me, and you had no memory of that moment.
Ann spoke up again. “You know, I was not that far away. You could have asked me first.”
Emmett thought for a moment, and the current danger his family was in. His first thought was selfish, and went unspoken. “You’re right. Of course you’re right. All we can do now is keep Kenny safe.” Ann had questions too. How did he get the bundle in the car and travel with it for thousands of miles without her seeing it, and into the future, there were several household moves. No one noticed or mentioned it.
My name is Jerry-Cavo by the way. After twenty three years, it’s nice to meet the both of you… again. I’m sorry for keeping the two of you in the dark. I wanted to protect you, but now it seems we’re beyond that.
With Ann at the wheel, they backed out of the garage. Where were they going to go? They would have to figure that out along the way. Before she could ask, the two were flung to the right side as the car was struck from the right rear bumper, and spun around clockwise in the driveway. An old ’90’s maroon minivan blocked the way behind them. The door slid open and the first of the two men hopped out. He had a sub-machine gun and his eyes–which matched his hair–were yellow.
Get Kenny down as low as you can. We have to stop them here before more come. Emmett and Jerry-Cavo got out of the car together. Jerry made Emmett remove his shirt. No more hiding, but you’ll have to let me take the wheel, so to speak. He addressed the blond, yellow-eyed man, who seemed incredulous. (I like confusing people. Watch). This he seemed to say directly into Emmett’s mind. The men inside sent us out. They said we needed to talk to the boss. Are you the boss?
Yellow eyes lowered his gun slightly and said, “What the hell?” and that’s when Jerry struck. He lurched forward, crouching down while the large right pincer emerged from his shoulder blade and severed the man’s gun-arm — his right arm — just below the elbow. It fell to the ground and the gun fired two bullets into the brush near the driveway’s entrance. He looked at his stump, now squirting blood. There was something supposed to be there, and it wasn’t. Before he had time to come to his senses, his head was neatly snipped off as a second thug jumped from the van.
This woman was even less prepared than the first. She was reaching for the hand-gun in her holster as she was impaled — straight through the chest — by one of Jerry’s legs. A Second leg went between her eyes and exited around the base of her spine. Jerry was removing it as she fell face-down on the pavement and Jerry took her place in doorway.
In this time, Ann had unbuckled Kenny and was holding him close, crouched down on the rear driver-side, as close to the floor as they could get. She couldn’t see anything — which was maddening — her view blocked by the child seat from which she had just removed Kenny. Kenny held his mother close, shaking silently.
For Emmett the sensation of being controlled by Jerry was like having his knee tapped with a mallet. He could feel the movements of his body, and the crab-like limbs sliding in and out of it, but it wasn’t his will making it happen. Inside the van, there was a pale, disfigured man strapped to the center, rear seat. He was dressed in plain gray clothes, and had no legs and only one arm. When and how he lost those limbs was a mystery, but Jerry-Cavo remembered him. This was the priest from the fall of Midian. At his feet was another wrapped parcel, like the one in the back of their car. The same, but different. It made a five-foot “L” shape of burlap. All of Jerry’s limbs came out at once, and he took hold of the parcel and hugged it close.
The crippled priest (Ashberry, Jerry’s thoughts provided the name) turned his glassy eyes toward Emmett. “Burn you! Burn you all away!” As he opened his mouth, Emmett and Jerry-Cavo could see that his teeth had been melted black and fused together into two short rows. White sparks ignited in the priest’s mouth. Emmett was awe-struck, and froze in place.
Oh, no you don’t! Whether Jerry was talking to him or the crippled man who even now had a white liquid fire dribbling down his face, Emmett didn’t know. He felt his body jump back and outside. Jerry-Cavo tripped over the lady corpse.
White burning vomit blackened and cracked the windshield, and through the door, Emmett could see the seats and the steering wheel blister and break apart. It was a fire that was both cold and hot in turns. They felt it, even outside.
Time to go. Jerry-Cavo picked up the wrapped thing again and loaded it into the car just as the madman in the back seat of the van yelled, “Burn you! Burn you all! I can smell you, Nightbreed, and I will find you and burn you!”
The road was an endless vista of fall colors on the birch and aspen trees. Red, yellow, orange, all as far as the eye could see. This would not last long. Winter always comes fast and hard, and they would be ready. Jerry told them that there would be more of Ashberry’s group, and that they needed to head South. There would be other Nightbreed that could help them.
There was one stop to make in Canada, of course. I have to see it again. After all these years, I want to see my Midian, unmade.
It was a three-hour detour across Peace River, through Shere-Neck, to Midian. The sun had set now, on the third day of their journey. The gates were still intact, but inside was a crater. The fence around Midian covered acres and acres of land, and at its center was a sink-hole of wrecked stone and dirt. There were, of course still tombs around its perimeter, of varying shapes and sizes. Emmett felt tears close, but he didn’t know why. They stepped just inside the gates and he took Ann’s hand. He never knew this place, this Midian, but it felt like home.
A tinny, buzzing sound, like a wind- up toy distracted Emmett, and the tears never came. “What is that?” They looked down, and what looked to be a mechanical millipede on Caliper legs buzzed across the ground, and across Emmett’s feet. Hello friend. Jerry said. He reached down to scoop up the creature, but it had other business. It deftly dodged the hand coming toward it, and ran up the stone wall beside the gate. Somehow it had footholds in the stone, as it ran vertically. Then it circled around and around a place where there had been something carved into the stone. A strange writing — like a combination simplified Chinese and Egyptian hieroglyphs. “What is that?” Ann asked.
Looks like a message. Did you write this, friend?
Realizing that it was being addressed, the mechanical millipede looked up at them. Looking closer, they could see it had a little silver face of a Mountain Lion. It nodded its head.
I can read this, hold on. It’s Jumpish, taught to us by Baphomet.
“To all the tribes of the moon. We are gathering in North Carolina. There, we hope that you will help us to assemble the Baptiser, so that he can reappear to the world as you’ve never seen him before–made whole. Cabal and I, among many more of the tribes will be waiting for you. If you are protecting one of his parts, please bring it. Together we are strong.
Now we know where to go. Will you come with us, Marcus? You know, we now have two pieces of Baphomet. Can you come look? Jerry-Cavo stopped and looked at Ann. Someone is watching through Marcus’ eyes. Knows we’re here. A friend, of course.
They went back to the car and opened the rear hatch. On top of their luggage, the two burlap parcels sat. Here is my burden. They unwrapped the parcel on the ground behind the car. It was a left hand and an arm, severed at the elbow–dark, with clawed fingers, the palm at least eighteen inches across.
“This is what’s been in our crawl-space all these years?” Emmett couldn’t turn his gaze away from the hand. Marcus went to the second parcel, the one they got from the Van.
Yes, let’s see what Ashberry was carrying. They unwrapped it, and inside was an arm. It looked like a left arm. Kenny, who had been quiet all this time, kneeled down and pushed the upper arm across the burlap, and pushed it together where it seemed to be severed from the hand, at the elbow. His face deadly serious, which Emmett and Ann recognized as the face he made when putting together puzzles. The wounds lined up. It was a match.
“Daddy, help.” Kenny was trying to get the two pieces to connect, but they would not stick together.
Jerry-Cavo addressed the mechanical beast now. This was Ohnaka’s piece. It was his responsibility, but after he died, I don’t know who took his place. Whoever it was, I imagine they are gone now. They wrapped them up together into one package and loaded them back in the car. The creature, Marcus, went back to the gate and circled again and again around the message in Jumpish. They followed, and could see that as it circled, it carved the circle around it as well, emphasizing it, they supposed, for anyone else who came along. Does this mean you’ll join us? Marcus climbed up Emmett’s leg and rested on his shoulder.
“Daddy, hold it!” Kenny was pointing at Marcus. This meant he wanted to hold the creature for himself.
“Kenny, Marcus is our friend. Not a toy.” After a beat, there was a quiet sound. Was it a laugh that came from Marcus?
They would continue to travel South, of course. Knowing that if they were to find more Nightbreed, and to help assemble the architect, there were still enemies. It had been twenty three years since the fall of Midian and since Baphomet was lost. Now this message from Lori was evidence that maybe the world was ready for the Nightbreed–ready to see the tribes of the moon and their Baptiser properly. In the coming year, Cabal would call to all the breed and; surprisingly, with the help of repentant and reformed Sons of the Free, they would find a new home, they would assemble the god, and the world would marvel. After twenty-three years, it was time to come home, a new home, because Midian was unmade. Maybe the world would be better for it.
Some of the breed had become accustomed to the routine in their new lives, but the call of the tribes would stir up their cold blood, and remind them of that important lesson they learned so long ago.
No home is forever.