The local paper carries the story. Stringers for the big city newspapers pick it up because of the proximity in time and space to the Clutter murders. People in other parts of the country make comments, feeble jokes, about the terrible crimes occurring in the Midwest. Bernice is in the hospital during the few days where the story of the small town killer son is in all the newspapers. The story is already slipping out of the public’s mind when she finally wakes up.
Her eyes pop open. It is dark. She does not know where she is. She sits up, throws her legs over the edge of the bed, and hops down to a cold linoleum floor. She is unsteady on her feet. The smell of disinfectant and warm bodies is overpowering. As she considers her situation, she realizes she does not know who she is. A minor irritation in the crook of her left elbow draws her attention. She can feel the steel needle of the IV being pushed out of her arm by the healing skin, watches it pop out, swing loosely from the glass IV bottle. Already the hunger in the pit of her stomach, the driving, pulsating, pounding need to feed is driving her on.
She staggers out into the hallway, one hand on her midsection. It is dimly lit at one end. There is a lone nurse sitting at a desk, tensor lamp providing a spot of illumination, writing on something. She can sense the blood coursing through the nurse’s veins and arteries from a hall-length away. It calls to her, intensifying the pain in her gut. She moves in that direction, her nightgown flapping open in back. Her gait steadies as she moves closer and closer to the nurse. She begins to run…
Come back Monday for the beginning of BUSH PIGS,
by Richard Dooling, illustrated by Ian Miller
A clock downstairs bongs the time. Sun will rise in another hour and a half. The time has come to bed down. He goes downstairs, takes a quick look around outside to see if anyone in the neighborhood is stirring, closes the front door. It is quiet. He picks the shotgun up from the floor and re-racks it over the fireplace, and kicks the broken picture frame under a sofa. He grabs his father by his left leg, his mother by her right, and drags them both upstairs, ragdoll heads bumping over each riser, arms trailing behind them. They fit together snugly in the hall closet, but he must quickly slam the door shut to keep them from tumbling out. Then he enters his sister’s room, his grossly distended belly hanging over his belt, sloshing and gurgling with two gallons of his parents’ blood, and he lays down on the floor, then squeezes himself under the bed to wait for his sister’s return. It is quiet except for crickets faintly chirping outside, the ticking of the clock downstairs, and the occasional creak and groan of the settling house.
The sound of a car door slamming awakens Ricky. He is instantly alert. For a moment he considers emerging from under the bed, then stops himself. Let sister come to him. Faint voices from outside the house drift up the stairs. He is able to make each word out perfectly. Sister is saying goodbye to someone named Suzette, and someone named Mr. Henry. Probably Suzette’s father, and most likely the driver of the car. Tires crunch gravel as the car backs out of the driveway. The insectile humming of the engine fades off into the distance, getting slightly louder as the front door is briefly opened, then quieter again once it has closed. Sister’s footsteps move confidently to the staircase, and then stop. He hears a slight intake of breath, as if in surprise. She has probably just noticed the broken balustrade. Ricky waits. He is confident that she will come upstairs to seek information from their parents about what happened. After a few moments, her footsteps start up again, coming closer. Ricky smiles..
When he returns to the first floor, he finds the front door wide open. He steps out onto the porch.
Belly distended, he can actually hear its contents slosh as he descends the front steps to the mangy lawn. He stops and listens, can hear only the sound of a light breeze as it gently stirs leaves and stalks of corn. A slight gap in the rows catches his eye. Something has recently passed that way. He moves forward, belches, tastes clotted blood.
When he plunges between the rows, the canopy of green closes over the top of him, and the moonlight disappears. All around him he senses life – little things, insects and spiders, rats and snakes. There is a faint trail of glowing spots on the ground in front of him, and as he follows the dim, phosphorescent path, he realizes he is seeing the heat the little girl’s feet have left behind. Occasionally leaves glow where she has brushed up against them.
He finds her huddled beneath a row of stalks, trying to press herself into the dirt. He stands over her, looks down. Body heat causes her to faintly phosphoresce, as if a deep-sea creature has somehow become stranded in a corn field. The silvery disks of her eyes swivel frantically back and forth in his direction, not focusing on him, unable to see him in the dark, but knowing he is there. She still clutches the teddy bear in her chubby little fist. Smiling, he kneels down and reaches for her.
The porch light comes on. He involuntarily cringes away from it, then straightens back up. A curtain blocking a small window set in the door at eye height twitches aside. A face peers out at him. Through the window he sees a man’s lips form the word “Ricky”. His hearing is acute enough to hear the name clearly through the glass. The door opens. Ricky hesitates on the threshold, unable to enter yet.
“Well, come on inside, son, before we let the bugs in.” His father’s voice. It is not familiar. Ricky flows inside, his arm rocketing straight out to catch the man who is his father in the throat and shove him down to the bare wooden floor. There is a moment to recognize the confusion and beginnings of fear in the man’s face. Then he has buried his own face in the warm, whisker grizzled neck. There is the smell of sex on the man, an intoxicating bonus to the warm, salty delight coursing rapidly down his throat.
From upstairs, “Herb? Is it Ricky?”, footsteps approaching, copying Herb’s journey down the stairs, a lighter tread, a woman’s weight creaking the wooden risers. “Herb? Why is the front door – ” The steps pause. The woman draws in breath. He can tell it’s going to erupt out of her throat and wake anyone else in the house and probably the neighbors as well. He’s not ready to deal with them yet. He explodes up off the floor, surprising even himself with his power and speed, and is on his mother before she can let that scream out. His hand hits her jaw so hard that it goes partially down her throat, breaking her neck. She will be dead in moments, paralyzed from the middle of her neck down. Her heart has already stopped beating.
A road, tar gleaming dully in the moonlight, a short distance from the tree. His feet move him toward it of their own accord, his gait stumbling at first, rapidly smoothing out. His legs feel light, springy. Despite the pain, he knows that he can run. Fast, and far. He doesn’t know how he knows this; he just does.
When the soles of his engineer boots touch the pavement, he turns left. Instinct. He begins to walk. Soon corn fields hem him in on both sides, stalks twelve feet high. Rather than the corn having risen above him, it feels instead that he has sunk down below it, leaving him at the bottom of a leafy canal. His stride feels impossibly long. The road disappears beneath him at a brisk rate.Time passes, the moon moves across the sky, the pain stays constant. There is no getting used to it. It is gnawing, overarching, all consuming. Still he moves quickly, fluidly. Despite that he has been walking rapidly for a long time, his boot heels clocking a metronomic beat, he doesn’t feel tired. A faint light appears down the road. It grows brighter as he approaches. A porch light over the front door of a two story farmhouse, which squats in the middle of a cleared patch, corn fields all around it. He passes through a yard with dry, patchy grass, then his feet take him up wooden steps to a wraparound porch with a swing at one end, and to the front door with the light. Up close, the light seems harsh, almost blinding. He raps on the door with his knuckles.
There is no hesitation in him. His arms whip out faster than snakes, ensnaring the woman, pulling her to him, pressing his engorged penis against her, burying his face in her neck. He places one hand over her mouth, smashing the scream back into her as it is born. His sharpened, impossibly long canines pierce deeply, search for the slippery tube of her carotid artery, find it, slice it open. Coppery, warm, salty blood gushes into his mouth, slides into his stomach, and the pain begins to ease. At the orgasmic glory of feeding, he ejaculates in his pants, powerful surges of semen soaking his underwear. The woman sags in his arms, already losing consciousness. Once again, he knows, without knowing how he knows, that if he stops feeding now, she will survive. Greed won’t let him stop. He sucks even harder, pulling more blood out of her throat, feels her heart stop. He lifts her body and lays it out on the counter to elevate it, and lowers her neck over the edge, sinking down with it, his lips never leaving her throat. Gravity helps him drain her almost dry. Her body slides off the counter and slams to the linoleum when he finally lets go. She is dead before she hits. He stands back up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. There are fresh drops of red on his shirt. The need is sated for the moment. He could leave now. But he thinks of the little girl. There is blood in her too.
Ricky can hear his sister’s heart suddenly accelerate, smells the faint tang of adrenaline. It makes his stomach gurgle painfully. He hears the thump of the bodies hitting the floor. He is out from under the bed, on his feet in less than a second. She hasn’t cried out, but he can sense sister’s stunned terror through the closed door, knows that she may give full voice to her horror at any moment. That might bring nosy neighbors to investigate. He must not go outside during daylight hours. He needs the house to be undisturbed until nightfall, so he slams through the bedroom door, intent on blitzing her before she can scream. The door slams into the hallway wall with a cracking sound. The wood door panel splits lengthwise. The brass knob embeds itself in the plaster. Ricky is on her in an instant, reaching for her…
Bernice catches a blur of motion emerging from her bedroom. She barely has enough time to raise her hands to ward off the charging shape. Even as it slams into her, some part of her mind is recognizing that the form hurtling towards her is her brother Ricky. It is all happening too fast for her to have any coherent thoughts about the situation.
Ricky exults. His prey is rooted to the spot, making it easy for him to catch her. Her feeble attempt to defend herself would be laughable if Ricky still had a sense of humor. He feels the erection in his pants once again, as he is about to feed. Cobra-like, his head darts to the warm, pulsing throat. His teeth pierce soft flesh, unerringly penetrate the elusive carotid artery. His aim is improved. Ricky begins to suck, even before their entangled bodies slam down on top of their parents cooling corpses. The familiar ecstasy this time is accompanied by another feeling. The building orgasm, the satiation of the hunger, and a new sensation. A burning in the chest. Ricky wonders what it means. They are both horizontal now, Ricky on top. The burning feeling grows, becomes uncomfortable, then beyond uncomfortable. An uncontrollable urge to get away wells up in his mind. The urge to flee merges with the burning feeling, rises in intensity, reaches a crescendo of agony. Ricky screams. He pushes away from sister, less than half finished devouring her blood.
Bernice is hit so hard by the hurtling shape that the wind is knocked out of her. Unbeknownst to her, the pain in her solar plexus rises in synchronization with pain in Ricky’s chest. She struggles to begin breathing again, diaphragm momentarily paralyzed. Ricky’s scream increases in volume until the light bulbs in the hallway shatter. Bernice’s left eardrum, the one closest to Ricky’s, bursts. Blood trickles out of her ear. Ricky pushes away from her so violently hard that three of her ribs break. His back smashes into the hallway wall, leaving a Ricky-sized dent in the plaster. He falls to the floor, and the scream abruptly cuts off. He is on his right side arms wrapped around his chest. From between those crossed arms, just before she passes out from blood loss and the trauma of the impact and the broken ribs, Bernice can see the end of the oak baluster she had brought upstairs sticking out of Ricky’s chest. Ricky’s eyes are open and staring at her, but they are as lifeless as her parents’. Plaster dust from the wall settles in a fine white coating on Ricky’s open, lifeless eyes. Then she is unconscious.
Ponca City. Grain silos, small buildings, nothing over three stories. A pickup truck passes him. A streetlight, the only one on the main street, dimly silhouettes a driver and a passenger. For a moment their warmth and fluids call out to him, but only a moment, and then they are gone, and he forgets them. Bradbury Street. He turns right, looking at street numbers. 237, a two story home, is in the middle of the block. There are no streetlights.
A shiny green convertible is parked in the gravel driveway. He runs his hand along the smooth surface of the vehicle as he walks up to the front door, feeling the layers of primer and paint, sensing the metal underneath. The door knob does not turn easily in his hand. He knows that he can break the door knob with a simple flick of his wrist, but something keeps him from doing so. Instead, he lets the knob go, raps on the door, sharply, three times. He is preparing to rap again, impatient to get inside, when a light finally comes on upstairs. Then the sound of feet clumping down wooden stairs. Heavy feet. Probably father. He wonders what father looks like.
Story by J. A. Miller
Art by Joseph Weide
The moon slips in and out of cottony shoals, painting the landscape a patchwork of light and dark. Under the spreading limbs of an elderly chestnut tree something stirs, rising to a sitting position. A boy, his ducktailed hair flashing liquid in the pale light, his leather jacket rucked up around his shoulders, stalks of dried grass and leaves clinging to his slicked-back do.
Confused. Cold and in pain – his stomach in knots. A strange pain, hunger, but not quite, something deeper, something more primal. A driving urge. He rises to shaky legs, his jacket falling into place. He lays the palm of one hand on his pain, rubbing his thin belly through a white T-shirt, trying to massage it away. He looks down, sees the brownish black streaks on his chest, touches them. Stiff, tacky. Drying blood. A hand searches his face and neck and chest for the source, finds no wounds. A nosebleed? Someone else’s blood?
How has he come to be here? He has no idea, doesn’t even know where he is. But the urge is too insistent to wonder about his circumstances for long; it needs to be addressed. Now.
Bernice Foster waves goodbye to her friend Suzette, and Suzette’s uncle Jerry, who graciously drove her home at the request of Suzette’s mother. While the car is disappearing around the corner at the end of the street, Bernice turns to the porch, mounts the steps. She pauses for an instant to grab the newspaper, tucks it under one arm. She turns the knob out of habit as her other hand is bringing her house key up to the keyhole, is surprised to find the door unlocked. Her father is usually very careful about locking the door at night, especially since those awful Clutter family murders over the border in Holcomb, Kansas, three hundred miles away. Suzette thinks he’s overly cautious. Bad things don’t happen in Ponca City. The Clutters were out in the middle of nowhere on their farm. The Fosters have neighbors on both sides of their suburban home. Who would be foolish enough to do what those awful men did to the Clutters in a peaceful but crowded neighborhood in a small town in Oklahoma?
She closes the door quietly, not wanting to wake her parents early on a Sunday morning. If she’s lucky, they’ll sleep late enough that they won’t get up in time for church. Bernice would rather do chores all day than go to church. Reverend Carlisle gives her the heebie-jeebies. He seems to stare at her just a moment too long anytime he looks at her, making her feel naked, somehow. She lifts her left foot to the first riser, pauses. A section of the banister is broken out, leaving a jagged-ended hole in the handrail about a quarter of the way up the stairs. There are broken balusters on the living room floor next to the staircase, along with the section of the handrail that has been smashed out. She stoops and picks up one of the dowel-shaped oak balusters that has remained on the stairs, examining the broken end. Puzzled, concerned, she decides to wake her parents up, despite the risk of having to go to church, to find out if they are aware of the damage. How they could not be is beyond her. It looks like it was a very noisy event.
The invitation pulls him across the threshold. She is already moving away from him, saying “Follow me.” A dark vertical line is visible through the thin material at the rear of her gown – somehow he can see through the thin cloth. He grows hard in his jeans, but it isn’t her virtual nudity which arouses him. His excitement is somehow connected to his insistent, terrible need. She enters a kitchen, turns on a second light, glances briefly over her shoulder to make sure he is following. In the kitchen she pulls open a cupboard, the thin panel of the door momentarily between his eyes and the side of her face. Arms reach up and rummage through the contents of the cupboard, boxes and bottles shuffling and clinking. Her breasts bounce under the nightgown. Without willing it, his arms come up, and he knows he means to grab her, to pull her to him, and he also knows that she will be unable to stop him.
His arms drop and his head whips around. A little girl stands in the kitchen doorway, wearing one piece pajamas, a teddy bear dangling from one chubby fist, knuckling an eye with the other. The woman shuts the cupboard, setting her armload of medical supplies down on the counter as she turns to look at the little girl.
“It’s okay honey,” she says, “go back to bed. This boy just needs my help.”
Without a word, the little girl turns back towards the stairs. When she has gone, he turns his head back to the woman. She is staring down at his crotch, her face creased in a confused frown tinged with growing disgust.
He looks back into the living room, sees the base of the stairs. His feet are already moving. As he mounts the stairs, his anticipation grows. He wonders if the young taste different.
On the landing, he chooses the door on his right, gently turns a rattly glass knob, easing the warped wooden door open. A faint shaft of moonlight comes through a window, illuminating a bed with a form in it. It is too big for the little girl, but smaller than the mother. A second child? At the sound of the door creaking, the figure on the bed sits up. A boy, maybe ten years old. Downstairs, he hears the little girl scream.
The boy tries to get up, and he is upon him, pushing him back into the bed with no effort. His face darts forward, seeking the pulsing warmth beneath the thin, pale flesh. Through the unfettered screams of the boy, he is vaguely aware of the sound of the front door opening as he drinks. Once again he uses gravity to help him drain the body dry.
At the top of the stairs she goes to her parents’ room, and knocks on the slightly opened door. She can see that no one is in bed. Perhaps her parents are both in the bathroom, preparing for church. No one answers. She pushes the door open all the way, and steps in. She can see through the open door to her left that her parents are not in their bathroom. Maybe they have gone out already to find materials to repair the stair railing. But the family car is still in the driveway. Confused, she goes back into the hallway to take her coat off and hang it up before she goes into her bedroom. Something catches her eye at the closet door. A stain on the doorhandle. It looks like blood.
A jolt of adrenaline raises her heart rate, quickens her breathing. Slowly, fearfully, she turns the door handle. The closet door comes to life and pushes her out of the way. Her parents bodies thump heavily to the carpeted floor. Their eyes are glazed over, lifeless doll’s eyes. There are bloodstains at the collars of their nightwear. She wants to scream, but her throat feels paralyzed. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a movement. Her bedroom door is opening.
Moments pass, he hears floorboards creaking inside, someone approaching. The door cracks open, a face appears, the safety chain at eye level. A woman, her hair loose and disheveled, the look of sleep in her face, the smell of bed on her.
“Please,” he says in a voice he doesn’t recognizes as his own, “I’m hurt.” Something crafty in his mind causes him to point at the blood that doesn’t seem to be his.
The woman’s eyes widen as the porch light reveals the bloodstains on his chest. The door shuts. An urgent jolt of panic surges through him. She has to open the door. Has to.
He is about to rap again, harder this time, when the sound of the chain being removed stays his hand. Then the door opens wide, and the woman steps aside, flicking on an interior light even more blinding than the porch light.
“Come in,” she says, “let me help.”
He buries his teeth in her neck and drinks, having to suck harder because her heart is not pumping. He quickly reverses her position, putting her feet upstairs, her head down, and uses gravity once more. He is finished with her, wiping his face clean on her nightgown, when he realizes his father is staggering into the living room, and already has one hand on the shotgun racked over the fireplace mantel. The banister snaps with a sharp crack, scattering rattling wooden balusters everywhere as he goes straight through it and into a living room filled with overstuffed furniture and doilied, claw-footed occasional tables. Herb is half turned when he slams into him, smashing his father into the mantel piece, the shotgun flying out of his grip. Pictures fall off the mantel and clatter to the floor, one of them breaking. He catches the stunned, dying man before he falls, goes back to the bloody wounds in his throat, finishes what he started before his mother came downstairs.
After a while, he straightens back up, dropping Herb’s lifeless corpse onto the rug that lies in front of the fireplace, picks up one of the pictures that had clattered to the floor. It is a family photo. Herb and his wife, whatever her name was, and a boy and a girl. He knows from the driver’s license photo that the boy is him, so the girl must be his sister. She appears to be about his age. She must be upstairs sleeping. He turns to the stairs and quickly mounts them to the second floor. A sliver of bed is visible through the open door of one bedroom, faint glowing warm spots where his parent must have lain until just a few moments ago. There are two other doors. He reaches for the knob of the closest door. He can sense that there is no one in the room, moves past it to the next door. The second door is the same.
Confused, he opens the second door anyway, sees that no one is in the neatly made bed. He goes back to the first door, and despite that he knows there is no one inside, opens it anyway. A bed with a pink canopy. No one is in it. Sister must have slept elsewhere tonight.
When he finishes thinking, he stands up, goes back out to the road, instinctively turns left again, and begins to walk. After about fifteen minutes, he comes to a canted, bullet-pocked road sign that says Kansas City, 270 miles, and right below it, pointing in the opposite direction, Ponca City, 5 miles. He calculates that Ponca City is about twenty minutes away, walking at this pace, which will put him there well before sunrise. He wonders if he lives with both parents, and if he has brothers or sisters. He fervently hopes so – full as he is, he is already feeling the faint stirring of need again.
Stars wheel overhead. He senses them without looking at them, knows where they are, what their position means chronologically. New thoughts enter his head of their own accord, thoughts of painfully bright light bulbs, and infinitely brighter and infinitely more painful sunlight. There is plenty of time to deal with that at the pace he is going, but he decides to speed up anyway. His legs begin to move even faster, until they are practically in a blur of motion. The bottoms of his feet begin to heat up, an initially pleasant, and then a not so pleasant feeling as the boot soles themselves begin to melt and come apart from the friction. Begrudgingly he slows down. He will need tougher footwear, obviously.
A creaking sound comes from one end of the darkened front porch, and with it the sound of glass crunching under boot heels. It is the porch swing, swaying back and forth.
He sits, digesting and thinking. The porch light had been uncomfortable, blinding. The darkness suits him much better. Just before he had shattered the bulb, though, he thought to check his pockets. In his back pocket, he found a wallet. Inside was a folded paper driver’s license. Apparently his name is Ricky Foster, and he lives in some place called Ponca City, Oklahoma. He tries to recall being Ricky Foster, or living in Ponca City. Nothing comes to him, not even a glimmer. His very first memory is waking up under the chestnut tree. He concentrates a long time, but can find absolutely no memories of anything before that moment.
Yet he can read. And a calendar he had noticed on the kitchen wall had showed that it was 1958. Based on the 1941 birth date on his driver’s license, he is 17. So he can do simple math, too.
He even knows the term for what he is. The only thing missing from his memory seems to be a knowledge of who he had been before tonight, the person that had called himself Ricky Foster. And how he became this way. But there is one thing he does know. He lives at 237 Bradbury Street in Ponca City, and if he is only 17, there is a good chance he lives with parents.