A quiet town, the kind of place old folk go to watch the sea roll in and the years roll out. The kind of place guys like the man in the pig mask can make an easy dime, or an easy killing.
An ancient entity...
An inhuman intelligence crawls up the shore and sprawls over Pointvilla. A thing capable of stealing bodies, and drawing minds into one, into it - the MIND. An intelligence pulling Pig Mask inward as others swirl around Pig himself, like he’s a planet, a force, and the rest are drawn by gravity.
Ray and Bill are kin. The entity might understand loneliness, and the drive to consume and kill and torment...but it doesn’t understand brothers and sisters. It doesn’t understand siblings. Some people are tied together by more than blood.
In a town at one with the Mind, survival comes down to brothers and sisters and old dudes with a penchant for good weed.
ONE CHAPTER SAMPLE:
Cold, salty air rushed through the cracked passenger window. Ray, his elbow propped against glass and sill, gnawed on his thumbnail. His mind drifted - more interested in what he’d left behind than what lay ahead.
His brother Bill was somewhere back there.
Ray’s buddy Devon navigated the canary-yellow Corolla with an easy hand down and around the curving mountain roads, lights swaying one side to the other on a moonlight-bright road. Alice in Chains whispered on the stereo, the dial too low for anyone in the car to make out a single lyric. The drone of instruments and the rumble of worn tread got on Ray’s nerves. He reached for the knob without looking at the radio. Devon slapped his hand away.
“The fuck off my shit,” Devon barked, turning on Ray. He tucked his greasy shoulder-length black hair behind his ears. “The fuck is wrong with you?”
“Hush,” said Pig Mask.
That’s how Ray thought of the guy in the back seat. Pig Mask. He didn’t know what Pig Mask truly looked like. The guy was cloaked in shadow, lounging in the backseat like some bored diva in between shoots, a latex pig mask pulled over his head. Freak shit photo shoot, maybe. What diva wore a Pig Mask?
Freak show. The guy worried Ray. How the hell he could stand the heat? Should’ve been sweat running down the guy’s face, neck. He should be drenched. But he was all cool, arms hanging loose, like it wasn’t a thing.
Second, there was a sawed-off shotgun across Pig Mask’s lap. Rough sawn, like a man who didn’t take care of his tools. Not filed down, but just hacked away, the marks from the saw jagged, uneven lines on the metal at the end of the barrel. Two blacks eyes on the side-by-side. Two black eyes in the mask.
Of the two problems Ray had with the guy, the mask had a clear lead.
Ray sniffed, didn’t look at Devon or Pig Mask, and watched the ocean below boil and froth until the road curved inland and the view disappeared behind a row of trees. A sheer rock face scrolled by on the driver’s side, highlighted only by the splash of the headlights. The moon was full. Clouds drifted, just passing by. The salty air mingled with the cloying odor of pine.
The three of them – an uncomfortable crew shunted together on this job, jammed in a shitty yellow Corolla - passed the Pointvilla sign shortly after one a.m.
I’m sure, thought Ray.
They rolled through the town common, its sidewalks all but rolled up and tucked away until morning. The one traffic light downtown flashed yellow, painting the glass store fronts on either side of the road a sickly citron.
Here, Highway 1 turned into Main Street for the next two miles, and they drove on. Ray and Devon in the front, quiet, and uncomfortable with the quiet. Pig Mask in the back, all laid back.
In the dead center of Pointvilla was a circular intersection with a fountain in the middle. Yield signs on the cross street—Memorial Drive—gave the right-of-way over to any vehicles traveling north on Main. Didn’t matter anyway because theirs was the only car on the road.
In the backseat, Pig Mask began whistling Camptown Races. The mask muffled the tune, giving the notes a flat, haunted quality.
Devon glanced into the rearview mirror and Ray saw his partner shiver. Devon was a hardass, known for raising Cain and fucking shit up on the regular, but here he was shaking in his boots simply being in the presence of the pig-faced fuck in the backseat.
Ray couldn’t fault Devon for that. Pig Mask was giving him second and third thoughts, too.
Ray ripped a section of nail from his thumb, drew blood, black in the dark interior of the car. He sucked the blood from his torn thumbnail and remained quiet.
Pig Mask was getting his back up. He wondered if Pig Mask could smell fear coming off him and Devon over the stench of that latex mask.
We fuck this up and Bill’s dead.
Simple as that.
Be scared of that, not Pig Mask. Pig Mask ain’t shit. Focus on Bill. Bill’s important. Nothing else.
Devon rounded the fountain and continued on toward Seaside Mall. A mile, maybe two, ‘til Seaside Mall and the end of their business together. They drove slow and steady passed ordinary houses for ordinary people for several blocks until they came to Pointvilla’s beachfront properties. Stilted houses slumbered before the Pacific. Every window was dark. Somewhere off in the distance, a bonfire on the beach licked at the ocean air. A column of gray smoke rose against clouds backlit by the moon. A low fire, its light nearly lost against the night, down on the sand.
Pig Mask stopped whistling, grabbed a handful of Ray’s headrest, and pulled himself between the front seats. The shotgun eased into view. Pig Mask pointed it toward the windshield and tapped the glass with the barrel. Ray knew damn well what Pig Mask was getting at. The fire on the beach, maybe five hundred yards down.
“They going to be a problem?” Pig Mask asked, his voice emotionless behind the latex.
Devon shook his head and didn’t slow the Corolla. “We goin’ in behind the store. Employee’s entrance. Long as you got the alarm code, ain’t nobody gonna know shit. They can’t see us down on the beach.”
“Right,” Pig Mask said. He relaxed back into his seat and began whistling Camptown Races once more.
Ray squinted at the bonfire and the waves beyond. In the glow of the firelight, he saw no people, no bundles of clothes or towels laid out. The fire, as far as he could tell, was unmanned. He wondered if Pig Mask saw the same thing. Hell, he wondered if Pig Mask could see much at all through the tiny eye slits in his piggy mask.
Seaside Mall—a strip of mom-and-pop tourist shops—came up on the left. Mixed in with the typical tourist outlets that sold coffee mugs and post cards and sunglasses in the shape of seashells was Pointvilla Drug. The pharmacy was leagues smaller than its chain-store competition, nothing more than a squat blue rectangle at the end of the strip mall. A row of foot-tall, three-foot-wide windows ran along the upper rim of the store. Window for light into back rooms, maybe, not for the view out. Automatic doors in the front were dark except for the soft illumination of a cooler stocked with sodas just beyond the entrance.
Devon pulled around the back of the pharmacy and parked by the dumpster enclosure. Three men stepped out. The only sound the far off hiss of waves shushing the shore, a slight rustle of their clothing maybe. They didn’t shut the doors on the Corolla. Just open a crack. No slamming. From a few feet away, it’d look like someone had parked up for the night. Nothing weird, not standing out.
Aside from being bright fucking yellow.
Not for the first time, Ray closed his eyes, tried to see the end of this whole shit-show.
Bill. Here for Bill. Nothing else matters.
“See,” Devon said, and gestured to the shadowy rear of the store, “Ain’t nobody gonna see us.”
This was true. To the left, a length of wooden fence separated the rear parking lot from the encroaching woods; probably once upon a time that tree line had come right up to the beachfront. Old, curious branches invaded the property through cracks in the fencing, the asphalt cracked in a few places where hard roots bullied their way under the lot. But for the most part the woodland had been deterred from regaining ground on humanity and their ‘development’.
To the right, the strip mall stretched far enough Ray couldn’t see the end. He figured on ten to fifteen shops, no more, and no other cars parked behind any one of those stores. Hopefully, everybody in town was at home. Asleep. Dreaming.
If the strip mall employed some kind of night watchman or surveillance team, there was no sign of them, either.
Ray and crew were completely alone. Thank God, too. He didn’t like to think what would happen to someone who stumbled upon Pig Mask and his sawed-off. The poor bastard would probably drop a load at the sight of the piggy mask long before the first pellets sent the rest of his guts through his back.
Devon approached the back, Ray in tow, Pig Mask behind.
The rear door was some kind of metal and had a spyhole the diameter of about the size of the bottom a soda can at the five-foot mark. The glass was opaque. Ray assumed you could only see through it from the inside out.
Pig Mask stepped up so the three of them stood in a line. He had an empty duffle bag over his shoulder, and that shotgun held up in his armpit.
“Boys,” he said. “Always remember your rubber.”
He took latex gloves from the back pocket of his jeans and waved them, head cocked, at Ray and Devon. He might have been smiling. Maybe not. How could you tell?
Pig snapped on the gloves with a flourish and handed Devon and Ray each a pair.
Devon pulled on the gloves, then rolled a rubber band over his wrist, lifted his hair back and tied it back in a ponytail. All ready for business.
Ray tugged his own gloves. He didn’t feel anything like ready.
From the front pocket of Pig Mask’s jeans came a set of keys.
“Whoever finds the keypad first, the code is ninety-five sixty-two. Nine—Five—Six—Two. Got it?”
“Yeah. We ain’t fuckin’ retarded. Fuck...”
The piggy mask tilted at Devon.
“…off?” enquired Pig Mask.
Ray tried to swallow. His throat clicked, dry.
A pregnant silence lingered between the three men. Ray feared what it would birth.
“No…no. I didn’t mean nothin’,” Devon said. “Just talkin’, right? Adrenaline. That’s all.”
Pig Mask let it hang there a moment longer. The shotgun stayed where it was. Ray’s heart beat harder still.
Instead of making that gun bark, Pig Mask jangled the set of keys until he found the right one and unlocked and yanked open the back door. Soft beeping started somewhere inside.
“After you, boys. Pretty please.”
Devon, shoulders hunched, flooded through the doorway first. Ray shot forward, hunting the registers. He figured the keypad for the alarm would be located somewhere near the inner employee’s entrance, beside the door the pharmacy staff left by. It wouldn’t be at the back door because the staff wouldn’t leave out that way. They’d go through the store and out the front. The pharmacy only had a back door for deliveries, so customers could spend, spend, spend without surly drivers pushing handtrucks through the aisles.
Ray found the keypad while Devon and Pig Mask bumbled around in the dark. The buttons lit up radiation-green with each number he pressed. Breath held, sweat heavy down his back.
The screen flashed white. The digital readout proclaimed: Disarmed.
Merry Christmas, Ray thought and blew out a lungful of pent up air.
“Safe!” he called out.
“Thank fuck,” Devon shouted back from behind the rows of medicine.
Pig Mask said not a word.
The corrugated shutters at the pharmacy’s checkout counter were closed. If someone were to pass by out front, they wouldn’t be able to see lights inside, and being able to see beat rummaging around by the green glow of exit light. Ray flipped two of the four switches beside the alarm’s keypad, labelled, like the owner was one of those anal retentive types. Back, Staff, Front and Front. A row of fluorescents flickered on, bathing them in stark white light and not the front of the store.
Ray moved into the row of shelving directly behind him and started scanning labels. White and brown bottles sat shoulder to shoulder at the front of shelves, cardboard packs, too, old people’s little helpers - grown-up nappies and stuff that looked like orange juice and made you shit - up the top.
Devon was in the far back, his feet scuffing and dragging around, Pig Mask was in the middle aisle, so both were hidden by metal shelving and stacks and stacks of drugs. Ray didn’t know most of the drugs by the names on the labels, and packets, but he knew enough. He found Bactrim and Vancomycin and Amoxicillin on the top row. More of the same on the next two rows – some he knew, some he didn’t. Four shelves down he found one he knew well enough. Benzos.
Everyone loves Benzo!
Like a TV show. Some character, like ALF, or Oscar the Grouch. Canned laughter. Here’s BENZO!
Ray shook his head and puffed.
I might be freaking out.
Benzo might fetch a goodly amount of scratch on the street but they weren’t here for good old…BENZO!
The sound of maracas, or maybe castanets, came from the row in the middle. Then, the screeeet! of a zipper. More castanets. It sounded as if he’d fallen into a nest of rattlesnakes.
Ray left the benzos and took a couple of paces, popped his head round the end of the aisle. Pig Mask was sweeping bottles off the shelving and into his duffle with a forearm.
“You got them?”
Pig Mask didn’t even look at Ray, just shovelled more bottles. Sweep ‘em up, rattle rattle in the bag.
Devon’s familiar shuffling, dragging footsteps came from the back corner of the pharmacy.
“He find them?” Devon asked.
Pig Mask’s head snapped around. For the first time Ray saw Pig Mask’s eyes quite clearly - just for a second that white fluorescent glow slid through the tiny slits cut into the bridge of the piggy’s nose.
Ray didn’t like what he saw in those eyes.
What he saw was betrayal.
The bag dropped.
The shotgun came up.
Ray ducked and dived to the side with his legs and ass up, his arms out to break his fall. Sprawling. Not elegant. The kind of move you make when you’re about to die, and you know you’re going die, and you don’t give two shits how you look if you can just stay alive for one…more…second.
The blast of the shotgun was deafening.
Devon grunted and crashed against a wall. Ray didn’t know where he was shot, or how bad, and he wasn’t about to hang around to ask.
Either way…Devon was fucked for sure and Ray wasn’t fucked just yet.
Ray crawled a second, scrambled to his feet and broke for the back door in a lurching run. Behind him, the snap of the barrel being breached. Click-clack as spent casings skittered across the floor. The thwomp of fresh shells being shoved into the shotgun.
As Ray crashed into the rear door, twisted the knob, and shoved outward, he heard Devon grumble, mouth not quite working right. Sounded like, “Fuck yuh…”
Ray got the gist. After that, Devon and his voice disappeared behind the bellow of Pig Mask’s shotgun.
Head ringing, eyes blearing up, his vision hazy, Ray stumbled and slowed. He thought about vaulting the wood fence, getting lost in the trees and the dark. The fence was high, though. He imagined getting stuck up there, Pig-fucker shoving that short shotgun up his ass and pulling the trigger.
He skidded around, one hand out, ran for the front and the parking lot.
He was dizzy from the blast and the cold and the panic. He wondered if it was all just some weird, shitty trip, like he was fighting for sanity and losing.
I’m not, though, am I? Be nice if I was though. Really nice.
If they planned on killing him and Devon, why the fuck had they brought them along at all?
Oh, but that was easy, wasn’t it?
We’re the fall guys.
Devon drove. Devon was dead. Either Devon had the keys, or Pig Mask had the car keys. Whoever had them, it wasn’t Ray.
Look at me figuring shit out, thought Ray. I’m on fucking fire today!
Ray figured one of those sensible things he wasn’t doing was running, so he did. That wasn’t difficult, as choices went, because it wasn’t like options were throwing themselves at him. To the other, obvious, question – where he was running – there was but one answer.
The beach. The bonfire.
He hadn’t seen anybody, but he could hope. Maybe the people who made the fire had gone for a late-night dip. They’d be back by now. Sure they would. Of course they’ll be back.
They went swimming, and they’ve got cell phones. Sitting in the middle of a pile of clothes, so they didn’t get sand in the phone. Everyone has a cell. Or a gun. Right? Cell phone and a gun.
When you were running for your life from a shotgun-wielding psycho in a piggy mask, hope and delusion was all you had.