“Oi! Sonny Jim!”
The voice sounded like somebody trying to gurgle through a pit of thick bubbling phlegm.
“You, Sonny Jim! Wakey Wakey Waka Waka! Wake the fook up!”
Jimmy felt rough leathery hands grab his collar and rattle him vigorously.
“Wakey wakey Sonny Jim! You have been sleeping ferr too long, yeh mook!”
The boy who was supposed to be Sonny Jim came round with a murderous ache in his head. He felt like he’d just gone through hell.
Sonny opened his eyes to an unreal visage. A wizened old man with a scraggly beard and a knotted grey pile for hair. He smelled like dried fish, sea salt and dead things. The old coot smiled, revealing yellowish green front teeth too large for his mouth. There was a gaping hole in the largest of them, and a worm poked its head out and quickly disappeared inside.
Sonny Jim tried to slap away the hands grasping for his neck. It was useless. The old man had a vice-like grip. Sonny was taken aback by his unyielding strength. He tried pushing the withered geezer off him. This time the old man voluntarily let go of Sonny Jim’s shirt. The place where he had grabbed was sticky with goop. Sonny looked around. His eyes took a few moments to get used to stifling darkness.
It was a different kind of darkness. There were no lights, no candles, no fires, no streetlamps, no stars, no moon. The sky above him was the colour of clotted blood. Something akin to a moon hung in the sky, but it was the deepest shade of black with a glowing red ring around it. What was that? Some sort of a half-assed eclipse?
In front of him there was nothing much to see except miles and miles of plain lands stretching out to the horizon. With sharp jagged arches jutting out from the ground at random. They reminded him of a rib cage left behind by a giant animal carcass. He tried to take a deep breath and clear his head. The air smelled of rotten eggs.
Sonny turned around to see what was behind him. It looked like something which could only be described as a forest. Except it was unlike any forest Sonny Jim had ever seen. There was no life in it. The trees were naked, skeletal. No leaves. No glowing eyes of owls or nocturnal animals. No buzzing sound of insects. Yet, something seemed to be staring right back from the forest. Something angry.
Sonny redirected his attention to the old man who’d been rattling him awake. He was dressed in scraps of clothes stitched together to make a hellish poncho. It seemed to be swaying in the wind. Except there was no wind. And despite everything around him being shrouded in thick darkness, Sonny Jim could somehow make out his gnarled features. The old man was holding a stick as thick as a baby’s leg. The stick had a knobbly head, almost like a club. And the old man was stomping it on the ground, clicking his heels together. A grotesque impression of a cartoon prospector who had just struck gold.
“Yippidy whoopity boop! Yerrrawake Sonny Jim!”
“Where is this place?” Sonny asked. His throat was dry and it hurt to speak.
“What no hi, no hello? No thank yeee, no swellkrum? You been out for seven smidgenhoggs. I thought yee were bloorkh!”
“Where the hell am I? What is this place?”
“Yerr nowhere. This is noplace. But yerr flesh smells good and young. Young fresh and moist. Yesssirree. Lemme have a lickypoo. Ol’ Gharrout hasn’t tastid flesh in a lyon’s cycle, no he hazzen!”
He reached for Sonny Jim’s neck with his leathery hands. Under the dull red gleam of the black moon’s glowing ring, Jim saw that Ol’ Gharrout’s arms were covered in warts. Except they wear less like warts and more like leathery volcanoes squirting yellowy green pus that glistened in the dark.
“Aaaaargggghh! LEAVE ME ALONE!” Sonny shrieked and ran. He sprinted towards the vast plains ahead of him. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and the crooked monstrosity.
Sonny quickly realized, to his dismay, that the land he was running on was not at all suitable for running. He was running on what felt like a thick sea of mud covered in a crusty thin layer of coal. Whenever his feet landed on the ground too hard, his heels broke the crust and got swallowed by thick sticky goop. He had to pull out his feet every time with considerable effort.
“YAAAARRRAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA!! YAK YAK YAK YAKHHH!!! Yerr running is futile Sonny Jim! Yee can’t outrun yerr fate!”
Sonny Jim didn’t pause to look back. Didn’t pause to take a breath. He hadn’t run this fast and this long in years, and his body wasn’t used to it. His heart beat like a giant’s drum. Threatening to explode out of his body and leave him rolling in the mud.
Sonny Jim ran until he could run no more. His knees felt like they were going to shatter. One of his ankles felt like it was broken and about to swell up. He hadn’t noticed the pain until now, he was too terrified.
“Fuck. Goddamn motherfucking fuck!” Sonny Jim swore and slumped on the ground after running for what it felt like hours. He felt like he could sit there for a thousand years. He was absolutely drained, gasping for air. He couldn’t figure how far he had run. Or for how long. At least he could no longer hear the old man’s cackle. And that was good enough.
“What is this place?” Sonny Jim wracked his brains for answers but couldn’t find any. But he was sure that this is not where he belonged. And Sonny Jim wasn’t his real name.
He had a vague flash of déjà vu. Of going through a familiar drill that he often performed in the past to remind him who he was after a night of drunken brawling.
“My name is…”
The answer was at the tip of his tongue, almost.
“I work for….,” Who did he work for? He did work somewhere, that he was sure of, at least. He loved his job, he knew that too. Just not what the job was.
“My father’s name is…” Sonny drew another blank.
“My mother…my mother…” There was a flash of recognition. He almost had it. A woman. A kind face. Warm embrace. He loved his mother and his mother loved him.
That’s what he called his mother. But that wasn’t her name. He couldn’t remember his mother’s name. But he could remember glimpses of her smile. Her warmth. Not the whole face, though. He knew his mother’s name, it was almost within his grasp. “Sarn… Sarm… Shir…Shin… AAAARRGGGHHH!”
It was something that had an “S” in it. Frustrated, Sonny punched the ground next to him and his fist crushed the dry crispy layer of coal-like substance covering the mushy earth underneath. His hand sunk into the ground, down to his wrists. He clawed through the soft Earth in rage. Digging up mounds of dirt.
“FUCK THIS SHITE!”
“Now now Sonny Jim. This is noplace to be swearrin’!”
Sonny’s heart jumped to his throat, raring to wiggle out of his mouth. People couldn’t die in nowhere and noplace. Otherwise Sonny Jim would have died right there and then, from sheer fright.
Thick sticky tentacles grew out of the ground, they looked soft, spongy and wet. Fluid made solid. The curled around Sonny Jim’s ankles, his neck, his hands and feet. Pinning him to the ground. He tried to free himself in vain. The inky black tentacles held firm, cold to the touch, strong as iron. He couldn’t move an inch. Every time he struggled, the tentacles pulled him in deeper into the mushy ground.
“I’m going to poke you with my stick now, Sonny Jim. But first, I wanna lickypoo your tasty green flesh! It’s been eons since Ol’ Gharrout has tasted sweet young flesh like yers. Yessire!”
The grisly old creature loomed over Sonny Jim as his tongue rolled out of his mouth. It was a sickly purple tongue sticky with green slime. It squirmed on the ground and snaked it way towards Sonny Jim’s face. Sonny screamed again. The tongue felt like sand paper on his chin, it shoved its way down Sonny Jim’s throat, coiling inside his belly, ripping his innards to shreds.
“Mmmm… Somebody had spaghetti ferr dinner. I gotta thank yerr arse for this sumptuous meal Sonny. Nothing much to eat roun’ here other than maggots and pus.”
Sonny Jim closed his eyes and did something he hadn’t done in a long time. He prayed.
“Please, God. Whatever this is. Wherever this is. Whatever I have done. This is punishment enough. Please let it be over,” Sonny Jim prayed fervently.
“AAAARRRRGHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. GOD DOESN’T COME HERE SONNY JIM!”
Sonny could only watch in horror as Gharrout’s tongue shot out of his belly and grew spikes and branches, taking his guts and intestines out with it. A horrific parody of a Christmas tree.
“This is fun, ain’t it Sonny Jim! Kinda like the girl you throat fucked to death. I ain’t judging you ferr that, Sonny. I’d doggone and done some fuckin’ desspickle things meself! That’s how I ended up here inna firs’ place.”
Sonny wondered why he wasn’t passed out yet. No one should be able to stay conscious throughout all this. Unless…
“Yerr already dead! Finally, figurrd it oot, have ye? Arkhhhhahahahahahahakaak.”
In a flash, Gharrout sucked in his purple green tongue outta Sonny’s innards, and ripped most of the flesh on Sonny’s face on its way out. Sonny wanted to shriek in pain, but his vocal cords were shredded to bits. The tentacles wrapped around his limbs loosened and shrunk back into the mushy mud-ground.
Sonny was in no condition to run. He just lay there and hoped for it to be over soon.
“Awww… Giving up so soon, Sonny? Open yer eyes ye git. I got someone for you to play with.”
Sonny looked up to see a huge portion of the inky red sky covered in winged creatures with round fleshy heads, they had no eyes or beaks. They sported clawed feet like birds of prey….and each of them was carrying what looked like a limp human form. More of them were rising from the skeletal forest. And even though they were miles away, Sonny could see everything in blood curdling detail.
A little girl who looked painfully familiar, no more than a toddler. Another boy of thirteen. A young woman. A wizened old man. A plump middle-aged lady. All naked. Their eyes carved out. The winged creatures weren’t flapping their wings, they simply glided towards Sonny’s body like spectres. Then their clawed feet loosened and the bodies dropped one by one, all eerily landed on their feet, despite falling from great heights. They opened their mouths, revealing yellowish needle teeth, maggots crawling out of their empty eye-sockets. They all smiled in sync, and made their way towards Sonny Jim!
“Holler at all yerr old friends’ Sonny, won’t ye? All the people ye murdered in good clean fun! HARKKHARRKHARRKHARKHHARKK! Yerr a man after my own heart Sonny Jim!” The old bastard was ecstatic. He clicked his heels in mid-air and stomped his stick on the ground, egging on the hordes.
Sonny scrambled onto his legs, his guts still dripping from his ripped belly. He tried to make a run for it, but tripped on his own intestines. His legs felt like jello.
“Please…” Sonny thought with all his might. Screaming in silent terror. “Please… I just wanna go home… Please… Make it stop!”
The naked eyeless hordes were upon him like flies on a rotting carcass, and they all sunk their teeth into Sonny Jim, ripping him to shreds. Sonny felt every single needle tooth tearing into him.
“It’s orrite Sonny!” The raspy voice bellowed from a distance. “Yerr gonna wake up in a lyon’s cycle all brand new and shiny, yessir! And we’re gonna play this darn fool game all over ageen! HARK HARK HARKHHH!! NOONE DIES IN NOPLACE!!”