«Table of Contents * * Prologue * * Chapter 1 – The “Levitating” “Jamaican” Chapter 2 – The Thing in John’s Apartment Chapter 3 – ...»
John Dies at the End Author: David Wong
Table of Contents
* * Prologue * *
Chapter 1 – The “Levitating” “Jamaican”
Chapter 2 – The Thing in John’s Apartment
Chapter 3 – Grilling With Morgan Freeman
Chapter 4 – The Soy Sauce
Chapter 5 – Riding with Shitload
Chapter 6 – Meet Dr. Marconi
Chapter 7 – Arnie Thinks David is Full of Shit
Chapter 8 – The Bratwurst Prophecy
Chapter 9 – The Missing Girl
Chapter 10 – By the way
Chapter 11 – Amy
Chapter 12 – The Chat Transcript
Chapter 14 – John Investigates
Chapter 15 – Shit Narnia
* * Epilogue * *
* * Prologue * * Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.
Let’s say you have an ax. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said ax to behead a man. Don’t worry, the man was already dead. Or maybe you should worry, because you’re the one who shot him.
He had been a big, twitchy guy with veiny skin stretched over swollen biceps, a tattoo of a swastika on his tongue. Teeth filed into razor-sharp fangs, you know the type. And you’re chopping off his head because, even with eight bullet holes in him, you’re pretty sure he’s about to spring back to his feet and eat the look of terror right off your face.
On the follow-through of the last swing, though, the handle of the ax snaps in a spray of splinters. You now have a broken ax. So, after a long night of looking for a place to dump the man and his head, you take a trip into town with your ax. You go to the hardware store, explaining away the dark reddish stains on the broken handle as barbecue sauce. You walk out with a brand new handle for your ax.
The repaired ax sits undisturbed in your garage until the next spring when, on one rainy morning, you find in your kitchen a creature that appears to be a foot-long slug with a bulging egg sac on its tail. Its jaws bite one of your forks in half with what seems like very little effort. You grab your trusty ax and chop the thing into several pieces. On the last blow, however, the ax strikes a metal leg of the overturned kitchen table and chips out a notch right in the middle of the blade.
Of course, a chipped head means yet another trip to the hardware store. They sell you a brand new head for your ax. As soon as you get home with your newly-headed ax, though, you meet the reanimated body of the guy you beheaded last year. He’s also got a new head, stitched on with what looks like plastic weed trimmer line, and it’s wearing that unique expression of “you’re the man who killed me last winter” resentment that one so rarely encounters in everyday life.
You brandish your ax. The guy takes a long look at the weapon with his squishy, rotting eyes and in a gargly voice he screams, “That’s the same ax that slayed me!” Is he right?
I was pondering that riddle as I reclined on my porch at 3:00 AM, a chilled breeze numbing my cheeks and earlobes and flicking tickly hairs across my forehead. I had my feet up on the railing, leaning back in one of those cheap plastic lawn chairs, the kind that blow out onto the lawn during every thunderstorm. It would have been a good occasion to smoke a pipe had I owned one and been 40 years older. It was one of those rare moments of mental peace I get these days, the kind you don’t appreciate until they’re ovMy cell phone screeched, the sound like a sonic bee sting. I dug the slim little phone from my jacket pocket, glanced at the number and felt a sickening little twinge of fear. I disconnected the call without answering.
The world was silent again, save for the faint applause of trees rustling in the wind and crumbly dead leaves scraping lightly down the pavement. That, and the scuffle of a mentally challenged dog trying to climb onto the chair next to me. After two attempts to mount the thing, Molly managed to send the chair clattering onto its side. She stared at the toppled chair for several seconds and then started barking at it.
The phone again. Molly growled at the chair. I closed my eyes, said an angry five-word prayer and answered the call.
“Hello?” “Dave? This is John. Your pimp says bring the crack shipment tonight, or he’ll be forced to stick you. Meet him where we buried the Korean whore. The one without the goatee.” That was code. It meant “Come to my place as soon as you can, it’s important.” Code, you know, in case the phone was bugged.
“John, it’s three in the-“ “-Oh, and don’t forget, tomorrow is the day we kill the President.” *Click* He was gone. That last part was code for, “Stop and pick me up some cigarettes on the way.” Actually, the phone probably was bugged but I was confident the people doing it could just as easily do some kind of remote intercept of our brain waves if they wanted, so it was moot. Two minutes and one very long sigh later, I was humming through the night in my truck, waiting for the heater to blow warm air and trying not to think of Frank Campo.
The country music marathon that had been running on every single FM station here since 1978 was still in full swing, so I alternated between an AM station that was filtering some staticky Spanish-language thing and a local right-wing talk radio program.
“-I’m here to tell ya, immigration, it’s like rats on a ship. America is the ship and allllll these rats are comin’ on board, y’all. And you know what happens when a ship gets too many rats on board? It sinks. That’s what.” I wondered if a ship had ever really sank that way. I wondered what was giving my truck that rotten egg smell. I wondered if the gun was still under the driver’s seat. I wandered.
Was there something moving back there, in the darkness? I glanced in my rear view mirror.
No, a trick of the shadows. I thought of Frank Campo.
Frank was an attorney who was heading home from the office one night in his black Lexus, the car’s wax job gleaming like a shell of black ice. So Frank’s driving, feeling weightless and invincible behind the greenish glow of his dashboard lights, when he senses a tingling on his legs. He sees a strange hint of movement down there by his feet, little ripples in the darkness.
So he flips on the dome light and finds thousands of shiny, black palm-sized spiders marching into his lap, spilling over his knees, pushing up inside his pant legs. The things looked like they were bred for war, jagged black bodies with yellow stripes, long spiny legs like needlepoints. His ankles were buried in them, submerged in a boiling pile of arachnids.
He freaked, he cranked the wheel, he flipped down an embankment. After they pried him out of the wreckage and after he stopped ranting, the cops assured him there wasn’t a sign of even one spider inside the car.
If it had ended there, you could write it off as a bad night, a trick of the eyes, one of Scrooge’s bad potatoes. But it didn’t end there. Frank kept seeing things, awful things, and over the months all the king’s doctors and all the king’s pills couldn’t make Frank’s waking nightmares go away.
And yet, other than that, the guy was fine. Lucid. As sane as a sunset. He’d write a brilliant legal brief on Wednesday, on Thursday he’d swear he saw tentacles writhing under the judge’s robes.
So? Who do you go to in a situation like that?
I pulled up to John’s building, felt the old dread coming back, churning like a sour stomach. The brisk wind chased me to the door, carrying a faint sulfur smell blown from a plant outside town that brewed drain cleaner. That and the pair of hills in the distance gave the impression of living downwind from a sleeping, farty giant.
John opened the door to his third-floor apartment and immediately gestured toward a very cute and very frightened-looking woman on his sofa. “Dave, this is Shelly. She needs our help.” I felt like an ass for noticing that she was pretty before noticing she was terrified. Then, the dread. It hit me like a punch in the stomach. You see, people like Frank Campo, and this girl, they never came for “our help” when they needed a carburetor rebuilt. We had a specialty.
Oh, the look on her face. The blank eyes, replaying some image over and over and over until she can’t see what’s in front of her any more. Acid-etched pictures her mind will never be rid of.
Man, I knew that look well.
She was probably nineteen, powder-blue eyes and the kind of crystal-clear pale skin that gave her a china doll look, chestnut curls bundled behind her head in a ponytail. She wore a long, flowing skirt that her nervous fingers kept messing with, an outfit that only emphasized how small she was. She had a soft look, the kind of self-conscious, pleading helplessness some guys go crazy for. Girl in distress. Makes you want to rescue her, take her home, curl up with her, tell her everything is gonna be okay. She had a white bandage on her temple.
John stepped into the corner of his tiny apartment that served as the kitchen and smoothly returned to place a cup of coffee in her hands. I struggled to keep my eyes from rolling, John’s almost therapist-like professionalism ridiculous in a room dominated by a huge plasma screen TV with four video game systems wired to it. John had his hair pulled back into a neat job-interview ponytail and was wearing a fairly normal button-up shirt. He could look like a grownup from time to time. John normally had a mane of bushy, frizzy hair, what he called “metal hair” because it made him look like one of those 80’s heavy metal bands.
I was wondering if I should warn the girl about John’s coffee, which tasted like a cup of battery acid someone had pissed in and then cursed at for several hours, when John turned to her and said in a lawyerly voice, “Shelly, tell us your story.” She raised timid eyes to me. “It’s my boyfriend. He... he won’t leave me alone. He’s been harassing me for about a week. My parents are gone, on vacation and I’m... I’m terrified to go home.” She shook her head, apparently out of words. She sipped the coffee, grimaced with distaste, then looked at it as if it had bit her.
“Miss-” “-Morris,” she said, barely audible.
“Ms. Morris, I strongly recommend a women’s shelter. They can help you get a restraining order, keep you safe, whatever. There are three in this city, and I’ll be happy to make the call-“ “-He, my boyfriend, I mean, he’s been dead for two months.” I let out a long sigh. John cast a little gleeful glance my way, as if to say “see how I deliver for you, Dave?” I hated that look. She went on.
“I—I didn’t know where else to go. I heard, you know, through a friend of mine that you handle, um, unusual problems.” She nudged aside a stack of DVD cases on an end table to make room for the coffee mug and sat it down on what she probably thought was a silk tablecloth, but was actually a pair of John’s pants. She looked at the mug distrustfully, as if to remind herself not to accidentally drink from it again, lest it betray her anew. She turned back to me.
“They say you’re the best.” I didn’t inform her that whoever called us “the best” had pretty low standards. I guess we were the best in town at this, but who would you brag to about that? It’s not like this stuff has its own section of the phone book.
I walked over to a cushioned chair and scooped out its contents (four worn guitar magazines, a sketchpad, and a leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible) and settled in. A leg promptly broke off and the whole chair slumped over at a 30-degree angle. I leaned over nonchalantly, trying to look like that’s exactly what I expected to happen.
“Okay. When he comes, you can see him?” “Yes. I can hear him, too. And he, uh...” She brushed the bandage on the side of her skull. I looked at her in bewilderment. Was she serious?
“He hits you?” “Yes.” “With his fist?” “Yes.” John looked up from his coffee indignantly. “Man, what a dick!” I did roll my eyes this time and glared at John once they stopped. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a ghost, but I’m guessing that if you did, the thing didn’t run over and punch you in the face. I’m guessing that’s never happened to any of your friends, either.
“From our experience,” said John, “spiritual beings that can manipulate objects in the physical world are as rare as live humans who can move physical objects with their mind. But beings that can manifest themselves physically, they’re very powerful, and very, very rare.” I guessed John had read that somewhere.
“When it first happened,” Shelly said, “I thought I was going crazy. Up until now, I’ve never bel-“ “-believed in ghosts, right,” I finished. That line was always there in the fake stories, everybody wanting to come off as the credible skeptic. “Look, Miss, I don’t want to-“ “-I told her we would look into it tonight,” said John, heading me off before I accidentally introduced some rational thought into this thing. “He’s haunting her house, out in (town name removed for privacy). I thought you and I could head over there, get out of the city for a night, show this bastard what’s what.” I felt a burst of irritation, mostly because John knew the story was bullshit. But then it suddenly clicked in my mind that, yes, John knew, and that he had called me because he was in fact trying to set me up with this girl. Button-cute, dead boyfriend, chance to be her hero. As usual, I didn’t know whether to thank him or punch him in the balls.
Sixteen different objections rose up in my mind at once and somehow they all canceled each other out. Maybe if there had been an odd number...
***** We rode in silence, all in my Bronco. We had told Shelly not to drive herself in case she had a concussion but the reality was that whether her story was true or not, we still had vivid memories of Mr. Campo and his unusually spidery car. You see, Frank found out the hard way that the dark things lurking in the night don’t haunt old houses or abandoned ships.
They haunt minds.