Friday, February 20, 2015

Alms for A Ghoul

Alms for A Ghoul
Bobby Derie

The chair creaked, long and slow. Jack stood on the far side of the desk, felt sweat begin to bead on his face and neck as the AC shuddered and died. The shades were drawn, but red sundown shown through the slats, casting the office in strange shadows. A glint flashed off the badge on Jack's hip, and he had to fight instinct to let his hand dangle instead of rest on his gun. Behind the desk, the man in the chair's lips peeled back to show teeth.

"What brings you here, detective?"

Jack tossed a handful of photographs on the desk, watching them flutter lying autumn leaves. Some were crisp and fresh, almost wet from the bath; others were brown and yellow with age.

Grubby little fingers with too-long nails grasped at them, spread them out over the desk. The not-smile widened as he laid them out. Jack couldn't quite make out the pattern, but he knew it was a pattern. An upside-down Tree-of-Life, if you could mark the Qabbalah with altars of skulls and bones, decades and miles apart. Stars gave bloody-grins as they posed, or were caught unawares cutting through the meat on their plates.

"Oh, you have been busy." He clucked his tongue. The chair groaned as he bent over the disk, enraptured. "How much do you want for them?"


The chair stopped in mid-squeak. The man's nose twitched. Jack forced himself to look at it. The hang of the jowls, the almost punched-in look gave the balding man the countenance of an English bulldog. The nose twitched again.

"It's not what you think."

Jack tapped the newest photo - the crown. Meet and gristle hung off three femurs, arranged in a triangle, but not much. Scattered wet-naps were visible on the detritus. The femurs were tied together at the ends with little round bands, twisted together. You could just make out the logo for St. Vincent's.

"Organ donors." Jack said as he tapped out a little rhythm on the desk. The man in the chair shook himself, slammed a meaty fist on the table that made the photos jump. His eye caught a bottle blonde in a white dress, holding up a spoonful of stew...and what was in the spoon stared right back up at her.

"None of that!" He was shaking, and Jack leaned back away from the desk, to look down on him.

"There's always been those here with a taste for it. Some people just want to try it, others fall in to some of the old ways. We take them as they come, the money is always welcome. But never many, and no one could eat a whole one in a single setting. point in any of it...going to waste." The chair squeaked, as the man settled himself back into it, steepling his pudgy fingers over his belly. "An occult charity, in every sense. Strictly quid pro se. You know how hungry they get, down there in the dark..."

"How hungry you get," Jack said. The teeth appeared again. "Were they dead first?"

"Their illness claimed them. In all cases, detective. We are...very traditional in that regard."

They looked at the photos again. An aging cowboy tossing a rib to something behind him. The composition was lousy, the light dark, but some things hunched and scrabbled in the background.

"How long?" Jack said, his voice barely a whisper. "How far back?"

"Give as alms what is inside, and then everything will be clean for you." The quote plucked at Jack's memory.


"A long time, detective." The chair screamed as he leaned forward again, shuffling the photographs together with pudgy fingers. "Longer than any of us know. Given in secret."


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