4 Dark Milk
Ruby tightened her scarf against the wind, the new coat, black wool designed to keep the wet out and the warm in did its job well enough, for sure, but the wind by the ocean blew cruel and harsh, biting at her face and bare hands carrying with it the smell of salt and rot.
Behind her, boarded up shops stood watch. Before the summer started, she would walk along the path offering her tuneup services to whoever would pay. She fixed the few automotins that sold candy and balloons to kids but also the viewing machines and wired the lights. Anything that needed done.
But now, in the winter, the bronze fixtures were discolored from the sea in the air, the windows dark and foggy. In just the few weeks since it had closed for the season, the lively boardwalk became a ghost town.
"I guess they were actually on their jobs this time," she said sighing, the trip wasted.
From the empty boardwalk she looked down at the scene below. The coppers long since gone, their work finished in the early morning while she was still dreaming of drowned men left the sand crossed with footprints. The department had actually cleaned up the space, cleared out all the bodies, boxes and any other debris that washed up. If she hadn't seen it before, she would have never thought there was a crash at all.
"There'll be more," a wet voice said to her side.
She turned, Mehrab stood there, looking out at the sea that had vomited him back up onto dry land. In the full light of day, he looked worse, his skin, furry from some sort of growth in patches around where it folded on itself. His clothes, too tight on his body, parts of it sloshing off revealing pale fat and bone.
"I'm hallucinating, you're not real," she said softly.
He chuckled, a liquid sound in his waterlogged throat. "You're not hallucinating, ghoul. You were chosen. I thought it would be me but Themselves had a different plan, different plan for all of us. The gears of the gods move slow, that's what They say."
"Who says that?" she asked, the odor of him beginning to overpower the sea. The singular taste of rotted meat on the air that touched her tongue.
"Themselves, they don't have a name, so much. But they talk, oh boy do they talk and I can hear them, so loud now that I'm on this side. You'll start hearing it too."
"This is a dream," she said.
"You're awake. I thought they wanted me but it was the captain they had an eye on. And that other girl before that, the one in the Jungle Lands but they weren't right, not exactly what they needed to get here. To get back."
"Get back where?" she asked. Something moved in his belly, making the bloat jiggle for a moment before it stopped.
"To the city, to the people. The gears move slowly but they do move, you understand that don't you girl? They moved and move until you throw something big enough in there to stop them. You get that, don't you little ghoul? Little tinkerer? Oh boy do they want you!"
"Stop it," she said pressing her hands to the side of her head, closing her eyes. "Stop it! You're just in my head!"
"Oh no little ghoul, it's too late to stop it, too late. The gears, they're in motion and there's nothing bigger than this machine. Nothing that can stop it from turning. And more is coming to this beach, you watch, you'll see. That lady, the sea, she gives her gifts as slowly as the god's gears turn. Pay attention. For you, for you."
She opened her eyes to find herself alone on the boardwalk, everything normal and as it should be. I'm alright, just my imagination, she thought.
She turned to leave, nothing left in the sand for her, she could see that from where she was standing. She paused facing the door behind her, a dark strip signaling that it was open. The knob had been broken, it hung useless on the door. She stepped towards it, pushing it open further and stepping into the darkness.
Inside, the familiar dining room of Cog's Worth, a popular spot during the summer season for drinks and food. The owner had hired her a few times to fix the lights and washing machine, the salt water causing everything to run down faster than it would otherwise. Now it was dark, only a little light making it through the foggy windows to guide her. "Hello? Anybody in here?" she called to the empty room, sure she heard something. Clanging and something wet and messy.
She stepped through the dining room, the chairs all on the tables, and into the back, following the faint noise, the sound getting louder as she went. She pushed through the swinging door that lead to the back, the smell worse than rot, hitting her before she saw it.
For a moment it was a body, their skin splitting from the bloat of the ocean, spilling out guts and fat all over the floor as they pulled at another, some other poor soul who hadn't made it back from that wreck. Who had washed up on the shores of Gaudim when they had meant to make it home to Glorium or Liberty. Someone who had meant to be anything but dead and on the beach.
She covered her mouth, forcing the scream back, the scene shifting from two bodies to something else.
The automotin, bronze and whole bent over its empty fellow, the half that she had hollowed out and sold for scrap. Only now it wasn't half, her mind had been almost right. Where its broken torso had met with nothing, now there were legs, fat from the water but legs all the same, its metal spine stuck into the flesh of something once living and maybe would live again.
Connecting the two were the worms, twisting, fat and purple like a ripe grape, a blood blister against reality. They reached from the things spine and into the waterlogged flesh of the dead body, bringing them closer together.
Above them, the whole automotin, its caprice catching the weak light, shining, sat bent over it's fellow. It had opened its chest piece from it dripped and spilled the thick liquid that she had found in the other when she took it apart. The worms, larger, thicker reached from this one to the other, the awful juices secreted from them and into the second one.
Like it's feeding it, nursing it, its dark milk, the words came Ruby's mind on their own. Her breathing came quickly and tingling sensation started between her legs. She thought of Jack then, the image of him thrusting into her coming to her as the feeling spread.
She shook her head, chasing it away and backed up, bumping into a counter.
The automotin, the whole one, turned it's head to her. The speaker box in its face had been pushed out, the worms, tentacles, hung from the opening, twisting, tasting the air. It stood slowly, the worms in its chest pulling away from it's fellow, curling back on themselves. The one on the ground twitched a metal finger.
Screaming, the sound finally erupting from her throat, she turned, running.
She wove through the tables even as the automotin chased her, barreling through the room, She reached the door and pulling it open stumbled out as the thing grabbed her bag, pulling her back.
She yelped as she fell, her back hitting the wooden ground, knocking the hair out of her before he head collided with it, shooting stars of pain through her eyes.
Above her, it squatted and held her head steady, forcing her to look at it. Its metal fingers pried open her mouth. The fat worms began to descend from it, reaching from its chest, and mouth, touching her forehead. The air thick with the stench of it made her gag but she couldn't close her mouth, couldn't pull away as the worms, dripping and wet filled her vision.