Washed Away
rating: +39+x

His skin felt like a salty, reeking, gluey film, one that clung and ground like liquid sandpaper, refusing to be removed, only smeared. He stumbled through and shut the door heavily, avoiding the oven-hot outer surface, and closed his eyes, leaning on the inner frame and breathing in the comparative cool of the darkened house. Even with the sun down, it still felt like a brick oven outside, with a damp, hazy humidity that made the boiling heat prickle and needle into the skin. The windless air hung and smothered like a hair shirt, making even mild activity an ordeal, and shaving tempers down to a brittle razors edge. He shook his hair, running fingers through the stiff outer layers, wincing as he felt the sweat-sodden tips stick and flop against his sunburned neck. It was late, and all he wanted was to flop spreadeagled before a fan, like a sacrificial offering, and dream of rain. However, then he'd just wake up all the more sore, sodden and exhausted. Sighing, he started to plod up the stairs, shedding clothes and gear absently in his wake.

It wasn't that he minded the heat. Hell, it could be welcome at times, even. However this was the fifth day in a row without a drop or rain of puff of wind, and for a man working highway construction, with minimal shade and maximum physical activity, it could get to feeling like you were working on Satan's hot-plate pretty quick. No surface you could touch wasn't hot to the touch, machine cabs and sheds became impromptu saunas, and you would sweat enough that, by day's end, your arms, hair and face would be coated with a gritty dusting of sandy textured salt. Yeah, a couple extra breaks and free water helped, sure, but what good was a break when you were working on hell's back porch? He chuckled, rubbing a dusty, crispy skin of salt from the stubble along his jaw. It was terrible, no doubt, but at least the pay made it worth it. Nearly, anyway.

Stripping, he turned on the bathroom fan, hoping it would cut the humidity at least. Upstairs was even worse, and though he did have fans in the bedroom, he'd rather sleep down in the dim living room, windows open in the vain hope that the night air might be cooler. As he started the water running, he rubbed over his raw skin, frowning as he felt the sticky, dusty layer all but crackle against him. Not too hot of a shower, or too long, just enough to melt off this film, then sleep. He splashed his hand in the water, testing it before pulling the pin to start the showerhead running, running his now wet hand through his stiff hair. Water dripped down, leaving little furrows where the dust and salt had turned him a vague, jaundiced gray-yellow.

He rose, looked…then sighed, going across the small bathroom to push the door shut. Silly, as he lived alone, and the doors were locked, but he'd never been able to shower with the door open. Even in school, he'd found any means he could to shower alone, or even pleading some excuse to scuttle home for it instead. He grumbled to himself, no better than a kid skipping a step up the basement stairs because that was the one the monster looked through. Still, as he peered out the small, high window into the dim, simmering night sky, better safe than sorry, as they say.

Rituals aside, the first wash of water was a spill of ambrosia to his parched skin, and he groaned and mumbled as he let it pour over him, smiling grimly as he saw the flow of black start to pour off him and down the drain. He let it wash over him for a few moments, before dunking his shaggy head into the spray, sputtering into the water as the cool fingers of it probed along that salty scalp. Tossing back, he grabbed soap and started to scrub, wincing as it slid over sunburns and scrapes, blinking as the water flowed over his eyes…then again, wincing more with a snarl, rubbing his suddenly stinging eyes like a fool with the back of his (hopefully) still unsoaped wrist.

Right away he realized his error. The salt from his eyebrows, unnoticed, had been dislodged by the water and flowed directly in to his eyes, to be pushed in more by his rubbing, and augmented by the soap that was, indeed, on his wrist. He squinted, trying to blink, but squeezed his eyes shut again, griping as he turned his face into the spray, hoping to lessen things. He could, and should, lean to grab a towel to wipe his eyes, but it seemed more hassle than it was worth. Just finish soaping, rinse, and by then he'd be fine. More annoying than anything else. It was a little odd though, washing in the sudden, total blackness. An odd paranoia simmered in the back of his head. Likely just a reaction to being about as vulnerable as a human could be: blind, naked, wet, and in an enclosed space. Mentally he set it aside, directing action and laying out plans for the next day, and the next, sorting out some of the issues of the day. An annoying voice seemed to call, mocking, telling him it was just whistling past the graveyard, but he smothered it with off-key song and sharp hisses where he rinsed his sunburn.

Rinsed, and feeling something more like a human then some kind of drudging desert troll, he leaned his head back for one more rinse, and opened his much less stinging eyes.

A small, warped face was looking at him from the corner of the shower, over the top of the curtain rod.

He gasped, tasting soap, blinking as his heart started to gallop, sure it was some smear of illusion, some drowsy vision jutting into his waking mind. No, it stayed, and even moved, a small, pale face, wreathed with masses of long, matted black hair. Human, somewhat, but also not. Eyes too large, wide set and staring, a colorless gray above a pinched mouth and stubby nose, the forehead much too small, crowned by the hanging masses of hair. It moved, shifting even higher, scraping the ceiling as it stared, and he was aware of a much too large and long neck, and furtive movement beyond the curtain.

He yelped, his mind and body nearly paralyzed with too many actions, like a crowd fleeing a fire trapped in a narrow doorway. Something buried in the primal jelly of the brain stem managed to make him pull back, yanking the shower curtain open with a sputtering shout as that face slowly drifted forward on that massive neck with the slow roll of an approaching camera boom. All but spilling out of the shower, he slammed over the short tub wall and onto the floor, tearing some of the plastic sheet free as he did so. Naked, he stared, and managed a hoarse shout, eyes staring helplessly up.

Whatever it was, it was massive. His sputtering, burning mind seized onto the outline of a brontosaurus standing on its back legs. No lizard this, though. The pale, pinkish flesh seemed slack, wobbling and hanging in folds and rolls, like the flesh of the underarm after losing a hundred pounds. The body was massive, at least twice his own, thick and barrel-like, supported on hunched, back-bent and oddly slender legs. The neck was a massive, elongated cone, covered in thick rolls and wrinkles, that seemed to stretch like an accordion to that stub of a passive, still watching face. The arms were massive where they joined the body, thick curtains of flesh hanging from them, folding in a posture like a praying mantis, which quickly stretched and tapered down into bony forearms. The hands were, in a way, the worst. Long and spidery, the fingertips curled all the way down past the knobby elbows, thin as chopsticks as they rose, spreading slightly and reaching with the same slow, dreamy drift as that damp, hair-wreathed face.

For a second he stared, a dull pain in his hip and legs where he'd hit the ground, both figures seemingly frozen. Then the thing moved, fingers spreading and uncoiling toward him as it took a shifting, surprisingly dainty step forward, displaying toes as long and spindly as the hands. He screamed then, a hoarse, ragged sound as he scrambled backward, grabbing and tossing whatever he could as he tried to fumble to the door, eyes still glued to the massive, crouching thing. A box of tissues bounced off that pale, passive face as he all but crawled up the door, trying to rip the door open with slick, trembling hands. As the box connected, the face winced, slightly turning as the lips spread…and spread, and spread. The mouth extended down the length of that massive neck, splitting like a flabby crocodile for a moment, to display ragged, black teeth and some coiling rope of slimy foulness.

As he all but broke the door open, his mind had fully given itself over to the primal directives of strange equals bad, and run before the bad eats you.

Naked, he shot down the hall, bouncing off the wall as he tried to turn down the stairs, the big thing lurching close behind, making the floor creak as it stepped on sharp, spindly toes. There was no plan to his flight, just the drive to get away, to stop seeing whatever the hell it was. Despite his blind panic, he kept watching the thing, the morbid terror of what could happen if he didn't watch it keeping his eyes glued, like a rodent hypnotized by a snake. It was this, coupled with his flailing run and damp skin, that caused him to miss the first few steps, land poorly, then roll forward. For a second he saw it, a hand outstretched, that hellish mouth parting as it stood at the top of the steps, all upside down. Then a sharp, hard pressure filled his head with black and white stars and velvety deep oblivion.

It was the strangest thing any of them had seen, even in a profession that was somewhat numb to the at times staggering oddness of humanity.

The police had been summoned in the pre-dawn hours to what was initially reported as a possible hit and run. Once they saw that the bleeding man at the side of the road was totally naked, they realized it was likely a little more than that. Splattered with blood and dirt, they'd assumed he was dead until they saw his chest move. Paramedics moved quickly, finding the main issue being a serious head injury. Badly hurt, but alive for the moment, they'd bundled him off as the police had started to question and look around.

Their questions seemed to just spawn more, with even the hazy answers just leading back to questions.

Why was the man's front door open? Why had he suddenly bolted out of the shower, leaving it running, only to fall down the stairs? How had he managed to get outside? No marks or trails from a crawling or stumbling, just a few drops of blood and odd, small holes gouged in the floor, and in the concrete walk outside. If it was a robbery, why was nothing taken? If something more serious, why drag him outside where he would be easily found? No drugs had been found in his system, but you could never be sure. Something sexual, or religious maybe? The locals all said he was a quiet, upstanding man, and had no odd behaviors before this. And then, after the doctors had cleaned and stabilized him, even more oddness.

There were great, long strands of hair wrapped around him here and there, nearly six feet long and black. Also wounds that looked like bites. However, whatever had made them, if indeed they were, had a mouth like a crocodile and teeth like a decayed human. All over his neck, chest and arms, they were shallow, and matched nothing anybody had ever seen. Other odd markings, almost like the bruises left from a hard grip, but so long and thin they could only be from a set of very thin cords. The authorities mumbled about cults and fetishes and moved on to the business of more ordinary human suffering.

The man's terror of the dark and enclosed spaces was dismissed as some stress reaction, as was his near muteness. More troubling was his screaming, pointing fits, howling “FACE! FACE!” at nearby vents and windows in the dead of night. Most difficult to settle was the small, deep holes that seemed to sprout up along the walls and floor of whatever room he was in for any length of time, and how he managed to somehow bite places like his own neck and back from time to time.

His hysteric, violent refusal to bathe was, perhaps, the most unfortunate effect of his trauma.

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