Books

Dead on Unbound Worlds: The Dreg Files, Day 4

 

The Hoarder

By Kelly Meding

(continued from part 3)

The room was no larger than a prison cell, but a more apt description–had the temperature of the room been any lower than a sweaty eighty-something–would have been a meat locker. At the thought, bile rose into Ash’s throat.

At least ten bodies had been tossed haphazardly into the small space. A few were stacked on a stained and sagging twin bed, but most took up floor space like abandoned logs. Limbs and torsos were twisted, and flesh had turned varying shades of gray and green. Jagged, mouth-sized wounds dotted body parts–necks, arms, shoulders, legs, all random choices for feeding–the exposed flesh long ago black with rot and age.

The human corpses weren’t the only things decomposing in the stuffy bedroom. An inappropriate joke about every missing pet poster in the county came to mind, but Ash could not jumpstart her brain. Speaking was beyond her abilities. Dogs and cats, birds, even a few squirrels and a raccoon, littered the space not taken up by the other bodies. They didn’t appear to have been fed upon.

Ash’s eyes watered. With the immediate shock wearing off, the noxious odors of the room had crept into her nose, her skin, every inch of her body, and started choking her from the inside out. She’d never smelled anything like it. She’d never seen anything like it.

“This is insane.”

She jumped at the sound of Jesse’s voice, so unexpected after the extended silence. As much as she wanted to slam the accordion door shut and never see the sight again, she couldn’t stop looking. Something was off–besides the obvious–and she couldn’t figure out… Wait.

Ash stepped into the room, grimacing as the carpet squished beneath her boot. Three bodies were stacked on the bed, with the rest of the people and animals strewn around the floor and what may have been a small dresser. She shined her penlight at the top body. The skin was stretched tight over bone, the flesh beneath almost nonexistent. The two bodies beneath it had the same frail, dried-out appearance, so unlike the fleshy, rotting corpses around them. They were also the only corpses tied up in lengths of chain and nylon rope.

Her light flashed across an open, screaming mouth, and she understood. “Kearney hoarded her food,” Ash said. “Just like she hoarded everything else.”

Jesse made an indeterminate noise, and she turned to the door. He hadn’t moved from the doorway, and his expression was cold, determined. Behind him, Stone had straightened and thrown her shoulders back. Disgust and anger schooled her pale face into a venomous scowl.

“She even hoarded her own mistakes,” Ash continued, jacking her thumb at the bodies on the bed. “She made three Halfies, probably before she realized she had to drain them dead or they’d turn.”

“So she killed them and kept them?” Jesse asked, astonished.

“Or let them starve to death.” She couldn’t stop the shudder than tore down her spine. “Four years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Doesn’t make sense,” Stone said. Her voice was high-pitched, yet barely above a whisper. “Even Halfies don’t drink from the dead. Why the fuck would she keep the bodies here?”

“Because she’s a hoarder, or hadn’t you noticed the signs?” Ash replied. Stone shrugged her shoulders and shook her head in a gesture Ash had learned meant Stone didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. “Hoarding is…well, not really a disease, but it’s like a mental illness. She’s hoarded stuff for a long time. I saw the kitchen. Nothing in there is newer than several weeks before she was turned, I’ll bet money on it. But hoarding food is instinctual for her, even more so as a Halfie.”

“She drinks blood now, so she kills people and hoards their blood,” Stone finished.

“Yeah.”

“That’s twisted.”

“Yeah.”

Jesse checked his wristwatch. “We’ve about ninety minutes until sunrise, so if Kearney’s coming home, it’s soon.”

“It’s too close quarters to try and kill her inside,” Ash said, working through the logistics of the fight in her mind. No real maneuvering room existed in the narrow, box-lined halls. All it took was one bite and a bit of saliva to kill one of them. “Jesse, go move our vehicle two trailers down. Stone and I will take positions in shrubs around this trailer. Unless Kearney has a second car, she’s probably on foot–”

It was soft, barely noticeable, but Ash heard the squeal of a hinge from the direction of the living room. All three Hunters froze. Then a rasping hiss from behind her sent goose flesh rippling across Ash’s neck and shoulders. She didn’t want to look, but she did.

The Halfie on top of the pile drew papery, cracked lips back from blackened gums, showing off its barely-developed fangs. The thing hissed, a reedy sound like a breeze across dried leaves. Its eyelids were open and murky white orbs tried to see and couldn’t. The starved-nearly-to-death half-Blood woman was a nightmare Ash would see for a long time to come.

And it knew its maker was home.

“Go,” Ash barked at her partners, not even bothering to whisper. Kearney knew someone was in her house. Silence was a waste of energy.

Footsteps pounded down the narrow hall, away. Ash angled her body and raised her katana, bracing the grip with both hands. With practiced precision, she sliced in a downward arc, chopping off the rotting woman’s head in a single, clean stroke. It rolled off the mattress and hit the soggy carpet with a splat. She lopped the heads off the other two corpses for good measure, then raced after her teammates.

The stink of the house clung to her even as she burst into the yard. It was dark, difficult to see, but not impossible. Five distinct shadows told her something else that shouldn’t have surprised her, but did–Kearney wasn’t alone.

Read the conclusion to The Hoarder

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