Read Ex-Purgatory: A Novel Online
Authors: Peter Clines
“You want to hear something even weirder?”
“Something weirder than you ignoring two hot, scantily clad women putting on a show for us?” Nick sat up. “Please, tell me. I’m dying to know.”
George gave the women an obligatory glance and then took a sip of his drink. He was already a bit hoarse from raising his voice to be heard. “Okay, you know how when you have the realistic dreams, your mind fills in all the missing parts? If you’re a pirate you know all the crew names and how you all met, that kind of thing?”
“You’re dreaming you’re a pirate?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Freak,” said Nick. “Is this about a parrot fetish or something?”
“Anyway,” George shouted over the music, “I think there are holes in my dreams, too. I’ll be dreaming, but there are still things I can’t remember. It’s like I know I’ve forgotten things in the dream.” He sipped his drink. “Have you ever heard of anything like that before?”
Nick laughed. “With the roster at my agency? I hear crap like this all the time. If it wasn’t you, I’d say you need to stop taking pills from strangers at clubs.”
George sighed and looked out at the dancers. On the edge of the crowd a tall woman in a tight blue tank top swung her hips. She’d painted her spiky hair fluorescent red, and it almost glowed in the club’s lights. Two men were near her, waiting to be acknowledged, but she didn’t seem to notice them.
He’d known a woman with wild hair once. A past girlfriend who had … spots? Stripes? He was pretty sure it was someone he’d slept with and felt ashamed that he couldn’t remember a name or even a face.
“You could score with her,” said Nick.
He pointed at the fluorescent-haired woman. “Her. She’s looked at you half a dozen times now at least. You’ve gotta pay attention to this stuff.”
George took another look at the woman. She had muscular arms, but lots of curves. She smiled at him. Then her gaze slid off him and over to the bar. It slid in a way that clearly meant he was invited to come ask what she was looking at.
He followed her gaze, just for a moment, and then froze.
The stringy-haired blonde was on the dance floor. Another woman was with her. This one wore a T-shirt with a dark stain across the collar and chest. The second woman turned to George and he saw she had blank eyes, too, and her mouth was ringed with messy lipstick. Maybe some kind of sauce from food she’d crammed into her mouth.
Maybe something else.
The second woman grinned at George, a wide grin that showed a lot of teeth. He realized after a moment her lips and part of her cheeks were gone, showing off her bare jaw. Her teeth clicked together, keeping time with the pounding bass line from the speakers.
They weren’t women. They weren’t even alive. They were monsters.
“Jesus,” muttered George.
Nick followed his gaze. “What?”
They flanked a man. He didn’t see what they were. He swung his hips and pumped the air even as they fell on him. The blonde sank its teeth into his bicep. The other one bit into his shoulder. Their jaws worked back and forth as they tore loose mouthfuls of meat.
George leaped up. His thigh hit the edge of the table hard enough to tilt it and knock over both drinks. The table wobbled and fell over onto Nick.
“Fuck!” he barked.
George glanced down and saw himself reflected in his friend’s glasses. Then he looked back to the dance floor, stepping forward as he did. It took him a moment to find the two …
Women. Just two women with hair that had been arranged and styled to look unkempt. They wore a lot of dark makeup around their eyes. They were grinding against the guy. He looked like he was having a lot more fun than George.
All three of them glanced his way. They looked at him and then at the fallen table. They never stopped dancing.
He looked around for a moment, confused. His eyes landed on the fluorescent redhead and she winked at him. It was a very promising wink.
George looked back at Nick. He pushed against the table edge until it tipped back the other way. “Cheap-ass hardware,” muttered Nick. He looked at the base of the table. “The bolts snapped right off.”
“You okay?” asked George.
okay? You jumped up like something bit you.”
“What? Yeah, sorry, I just thought I saw—”
“Damn it,” said Nick. His sunglasses were focused at the far end of the bar. “We should go.”
“Remember I said I thought the owner didn’t like me?”
Nick angled his sunglasses toward the bar. “Well, it looks like we just broke a table in his club.”
Across the room a buzz-cut man in a glossy suit glowered at
them. Two oversized men in black polo shirts lumbered toward them.
“We didn’t do anything,” said George.
“Great,” said Nick. “We can feel really superior when they drag us out by our necks. Come on.” He gestured toward the dance floor.
“Because there are a lot of people here and my boss’ll be pissed if he hears I got thrown out of a club. We’re going to dodge them and leave on our own.” Nick started walking.
George took a few steps and someone grabbed his arm. He looked over at the fluorescent-haired woman. She was almost as tall as him. “About time,” she said with a grin. “I was going to come over there and climb into your lap.”
He tried to think of a good answer and his shirt got tight. It twisted into a knot between his shoulder blades. Right above the spot where he …
What was important about his shoulder blades? He tried to focus on the thought. It slipped away.
The knot in his shirt pushed him past the red-haired woman. Her hand slipped away from his arm. Another hand—a larger, heavier one—grabbed his wrist and pulled it back.
George slapped his foot down and looked over his shoulder. The man behind him was bald and his black polo shirt said
over his heart. His face was set in a flat expression that leaned close to a scowl. He was one of those guys treading a line between beefy and fat. Over the man’s shoulder, the fluorescent-haired woman stared at George with a confused look.
The big man shoved again and George resisted, more out of instinct than any planned action. He pushed down on the floor and levered himself against the man’s arms.
Just for a moment the heavy man’s scowl cracked. His brow furrowed as George refused to move. The man pushed again, but it felt like he wasn’t putting any real force into it. It was more of a nudge, a gentle guide in the direction he wanted George to go.
Then the moment passed. The next shove sent George sprawling, and only the fist twisted into his shirt stopped him from
falling face-first on the dance floor. The club rushed past him, a side door loomed in front of him, and he was out on the sidewalk next to Nick.
Nick muttered something and pushed his sunglasses tight over his eyes. He dusted himself off and brushed the lapels of his coat back. For some reason it made George think of the sheriff in an old Western.
“Okay,” said Nick, “want to hit somewhere else?”
I’M FALLING AGAIN
This time, I’m falling sideways. The ground rushes by below me. I’ve been thrown or launched. I’m not sure which. That isn’t part of the dream.
The ground rushes by. I see pavement, a quick glimpse of people, a white truck, a wall topped with spikes. And then I see them.
The crowd of monsters tilts their papery faces up at me. They all look thin and gaunt, and they stare at me with undeniable hunger. Some bend their heads so far back I see them fall over. As always, their jaws move but don’t make any sound.
I lose momentum and crash down through the crowd. I get my arms up as I plow into some of the monsters. They fall under me as I drop to the street. The impact doesn’t hurt. Dream physics saves me again. Or maybe the dead people broke my fall.
They swarm over me. They grab at my clothes and tangle their fingers in my hair and wrap themselves around my arms and legs. A woman with ivory skin falls on top of me and bares her gory teeth.
A prickling sensation sweeps over me. It reminds me of pins and needles, a sleepy leg or arm waking up, but it’s localized in patches across my body. I tug away from the hair-pullers and look down at myself.
They’re biting me. All of them are. The dead creatures are gnawing on me with yellowed teeth. They chew on my arms and fingers and calves and …
They’re trying to eat me!
I panic even as I realize they’re harmless. They’ve been dead so long their teeth fall out when they try to bite me. Some just crumble. How long does someone have to be dead for their teeth to crumble against skin?
I push myself up and I’m back on my feet. Most of the creatures fall off me. A few have wrapped themselves on tight enough that I drag them to their feet as well. They must be very light. They’re still biting me, even the ones with no teeth left in their mouths.
, I think.
These are parrots
. While dream-me understands the term, on a deeper level—the level where I know I’m in a dream—I know it’s a nonsense phrase. More garbled memories.
Something pulls at my back. It’s itchy. Whatever it is, it lifts me up and out of the horde of monsters. I soar into the air and a few of the creatures come with me. They’re tangled in my limbs or snagged on my leather jacket. One’s hooked its arm over my boot. The wirework spins me in a circle and the dead things tumble away. They fall on top of others in the mob and knock them to the ground.
Someone punches me. Hard. Twice. I twist in the air and look around.
A soldier’s shooting at me. The man—the
man—stands on top of the white truck I glimpsed earlier. It’s tipped over, so he’s standing on its side. The soldier has a video game pistol, something too big and bulky to be real.
As I look at the pistol, the soldier fires another burst at me. I flinch away, but all the gunshots just feel like punches. They knock me around and hurt a bit, but I can tell they aren’t doing any real damage.
“Please stand down, sir,” calls the huge soldier. The words echo out across the silent dreamscape. He has a good, deep voice. “I don’t enjoy doing this.”
It’s stupid. I know this. The soldier and I are on the same side. We’re supposed to be fighting the monsters. It’s all a misunderstanding.
The wires I’m hanging from sag as the dream bullets hit me. I dangle down enough for the monsters below to reach me. One of the taller ones wraps its dead fingers around the toes of my boot. Another one brushes my heel.
The light grows brighter. Part of me wonders if it’s one of those moments in a dream when night suddenly becomes day or you go from inside to outside. But I’m already outside in the early morning, so I’m not sure what’s changed.
Then I see the other man. The other man hanging in the sky. The soldier turns to face him, too, and fires more dream bullets that do nothing.
At first I think the new man is wrapped in tinfoil. He’s nothing but reflections of the sun. Every now and then the brightness shifts and ripples, as if threads of even brighter light are racing across his odd outfit.
He’s very bright.
Then the gleaming figure speaks. Its voice sounds like static. Or a distorted hum. It takes an effort to understand the words, but I do understand them, because that’s how things work in a dream.
, says the glowing man. He holds up his hand and it gets even more brilliant. It’s like the tinfoil man is holding the sun in his hand. Even the air ripples and twists from the heat around his fingers.
That was all pretty impressive up until the part where you got here
GEORGE WOKE UP
with a headache.
The fan chain
ed against the side of the fan. The beads wobbled back and forth and tapped the motor housing again and again. He couldn’t block out the sound.
He focused on the chain of beads. There was something wrong with it. And then his eyes focused past the chain and he saw the dark mildew stains stretching across the stippled ceiling. He blinked and sat up in bed.
While he slept, someone had destroyed his apartment.
His television was gone, along with his DVD player and his pathetically small collection of movies. The squat bookshelf the television lived on had been smashed and collapsed into moldy sections of particle board. The closet hung open and empty. Shoes, shirts, all of it gone. Even his—
What did he keep hidden in the back of the closet? Something important. Something he was proud of, but didn’t want anyone to see.
The futon he was lying on was damp. He could see white threads of mold stretching across one corner like cobwebs. The opposite corner looked like it had been ripped open. Maybe chewed open. His blankets and sheets and pillow were gone. They’d been taken off him during the night.
They’d been taken
out from under him
during the night.
The room was covered with dust. The window was smashed. Even part of the frame was gone. There was a puddle on the floor beneath it, and a damp wind blew in from outside. The paint peeled off the walls in thick strips. Where they weren’t peeling, the walls had the glossy sheen of condensation spotted with mildew.
He heard a scuffling noise from behind him. He flipped around on the bed and got a glimpse of his intruder. He saw outstretched arms, pearl-colored eyes, bared teeth, and then the dead woman lunged at—