Discover more from Antlers, Colorado
CONTENT WARNING: This update contains descriptions of gore and body horror.
Austin blinks, hard, trying to will Abbott away as though he’s nothing but another bizarre hallucination. But he stays there, in the doorway, head cocked ever so slightly to one side in curiosity. No matter how long Austin stares at him, he’s still there.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Abbott asks. His head straightens jerkily on his neck, and he raises his eyebrows almost imperceptibly, as though he’s realized something. “Perhaps you don’t know who I am. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m -”
“I know who you are,” Austin says, every word an effort to push through the rising bile in his throat. The palms of his hands are buzzing, anger washing over him from head to toe in white hot waves. He eyes the phone on the wall, close to the back door. Can I get there before he realizes what I’m doing? There might not be anyone at the DPR to answer the main line. Cillian’s cell number - if it’s still the right one - is in my phone, but that’s upstairs. Shit.
“Ah,” Abbott says. “Well, that saves us some time. Is your brother home, Austin?”
“You know goddamn well he isn’t,” Austin says. His eyes slide away from the phone, darting about the room in search of something he can use as a weapon. Abbott looks like he’d go down with a couple of punches, but there’s no telling if he has a knife on him.
“Still in the hospital, then.” Abbott’s tone is pleasant and conversational, like he’s discussing a weather report, or his taxes.
Austin says nothing and edges closer to the counter top, where the challah loaf sits, unattended and protruding from its bag. The bread is useless as a weapon, but once Austin’s close enough, he slowly begins opening the drawers behind the counter, furtively glancing down at them for something to attack Abbott with, silently thanking Jacob for installing drawers that slide out smoothly and noiselessly. He tries to keep his eyes on Abbott’s when he isn’t searching the drawers, still feeling as though Abbott might disappear if not paid enough attention to.
“You paid to have me kidnapped,” Austin says in a monotone, finding nothing of interest in the drawers and pushing them shut again with a gentle motion of his hand and hip. He has little interest in actually having a conversation with Abbott, but at the very least it’ll let him stall while he tries to make a plan.
“I…did,” Abbott says slowly. His eyes seem to unfocus for a moment, one drifting slightly left of center - though maybe it’s just the flickering light above the back door.
“I did,” he repeats, more confidently, “though your brother could have been more grateful for it, in my opinion.”
“Why?” Austin asks. He looks around the kitchen again - there’s a knife block over on a counter near the fridge, but he can’t see the blades. He could summon one to his hand, but he doesn’t like the odds that the blade might be the size of his finger, and Abbott probably won’t give him time to do the same trick twice. Whatever he does, it has to incapacitate Abbott in one or two blows, before he can retaliate or run.
“I should have thought you knew, by now,” Abbott says. “He was so rude to me, when -”
“No, not that.” Austin dismisses the question with a half-shake of his head, flexing his hands anxiously down near his sides. Something from the pantry…no. Nothing but boxes and cans in there. “The part I don’t get is, why pay a bunch of hitmen to kidnap me, and bring me back here alive? What were you going to use me as leverage for?”
Abbott laughs. His hand flies up to his mouth and his eyes go wide, as though the outburst startles even him, and yet he keeps laughing, reaching out with his other hand to grab the doorframe for support. Within seconds, the laughs turn to coughs and wheezes, and he straightens, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he tries to draw in deep breaths.
“I’m sorry,” he says haltingly, a smile still playing around his lips. “It’s just…Jacob didn’t tell you?”
Austin’s face feels hot, his line of sight focusing back in on Abbott. Everything else around them - the noise of crickets in the yard, the lights of the kitchen - seems to fall away, like set pieces being removed from a stage.
“No,” Austin says.
“I paid to have you brought back here,” Abbott says, “so that Jacob might see the lengths I’m willing to go to for his happiness.”
A corner of Austin’s mouth twitches into a mirthless half-smile. “Bullshit.”
“It’s the truth.” Abbott steps inside the kitchen, his expression once again perfectly placid. “I’m in love with Jacob. I wanted him to know how…special his happiness is to me. How much I care about his wellbeing. Why would I lie about that?”
“You stabbed him,” Austin hisses.
“He insulted me,” Abbott snaps. He stalks closer to Austin, his eyes narrowing. “Do you understand? I wanted to surprise him by bringing you home and he - he couldn’t appreciate what I’d done for him. For both of you. He told me he didn’t want you to come home.”
“That’s not what he said,” Austin says. The thought stings a little, of Jacob not wanting him to come home, but he trusts the version of events Jacob told him in the hospital room. Of course Abbott has it twisted. Things didn’t go the way he wanted them to.
“He disrespected me,” Abbott says, louder, his voice overlapping Austin’s. “I love him. And after all I’ve done -”
“Love?” Austin laughs this time, the sound a harsh, barking noise that strains his throat. “Is that what you call it? Is love kidnapping someone’s brother against his will? Is love stabbing someone over a disagreement?” He breathes in, shakily, balling his hands into fists. Maybe he’ll just hit Abbott after all. All he can think of is how satisfying it would be, to feel Abbott’s jaw against his knuckles. “You don’t love my brother. You’re - you’re obsessed with him.”
Quickly, quicker than Austin thought possible, Abbott grabs him by the hair. Austin barely sees his hand move - one moment Abbott is standing still, but far too close for comfort, and the next there’s a burning sensation in Austin’s scalp, a vice grip dragging him upwards.
“Don’t condescend to me,” Abbott says, his voice guttural. His eyes look greener up close, almost luminescent, the marking of a poisonous animal. “You don’t know what I feel for your brother.”
“I know you don’t love him,” Austin says, laboriously, “and I know he doesn’t love you.”
Abbott tugs on his hair harder, forcing a moan of pain up through Austin’s lips. “I know he’s here. Let me talk to him.”
“He’s not here,” Austin manages through clenched teeth. On tiptoe, now, he can see over Abbott’s shoulder into the sink. There’s something in there, something with a smooth, black handle and a long, serrated blade. Austin nearly laughs out loud. The fucking bread knife. Fuck me.
“Liar,” Abbott says. “He should be out of the hospital by now. Let me see him.”
“Over my dead body,” Austin growls. He focuses on the bread knife, extending a thread of magic outwards, imagining it looping delicately around the handle. Please work. Please.
Abbott’s lips peel back in a grin, exposing teeth. “That can be arranged.”
Before Abbott can do so much as twitch, Austin grabs the wrist of the hand holding him by the hair, sinks his nails in, and knees Abbott in the stomach as hard as he can. Abbott’s hand flies open, and he doubles over, wheezing, just as Austin pulls an imaginary trigger with his index fingers and suddenly feels the comforting weight of the bread knife in his hand. He nearly drops it from relief, but closes his hand tightly, instinctively around the handle, refusing to let it fall to the floor.
“Magic?” Abbott gasps, using the counter as a crutch to straighten up.
“Damn right,” Austin says.
He lunges towards Abbott, barely thinking about it as he stabs the bread knife up and in, aiming for a lung. Once the blade is all the way in, Austin tugs, hard, and yanks the whole length of it out.
Abbott crumples within seconds. Austin can still hear him wheezing on the floor, can see his arms shaking as he tries to support himself, but the blood pooling beneath him says that he won’t be getting up anytime soon. Austin thinks maybe he should stab him again, for good measure, but it might just be overkill at this point. Sure enough, as he’s waffling over the decision, holding the knife down near his side, Abbott goes limp.
All at once, the sound rushes back into Austin’s ears, the too-quick thrumming of his own pulse underscoring everything else. His chest is tight, his body flooded with the dueling sensations of relief and panic. A thought repeats in his head like a drum beat. Have to get this cleaned up. Can’t let anyone else see.
Austin turns, and takes a few steps towards the sink, holding the knife blade under a blast of scalding hot water and washing the blood away. His movements feel slow, dissociative. There’s a strange noise somewhere in the background that he doesn’t recognize. The pipes?
The last of the blood circles down the drain. Austin holds onto the knife and looks beneath the sink, hoping for bleach, finding only dishwashing supplies and plant food. Maybe Jacob doesn’t have a need for bleach. Maybe it’s somewhere else, like the hall closet upstairs, or the basement. It’s annoying - it might be quicker to go to the store and just buy a bottle.
Austin turns to take stock of Abbott’s body, to figure out where to move it before rigor mortis sets in, and his heart leaps up into his throat. The body is gone, nothing left but a puddle of blood. The strange noise from before continues. The sink is turned off, now, and the noise sounds more organic than pipes clanking, a muscle-and-bone noise that sets Austin’s teeth on edge.
There’s something in the shadows on the ceiling, a jerky, skittering movement that startles Austin badly. Slowly, against his better judgement, he looks up, and finds not two, but four green eyes peering back down at him.
The thing in the shadows moves, and blood drips from it, splashing on the countertop. It’s the body - Abbott’s body - but twisted horribly, crawling spider-like on the ceiling, with too many limbs. Austin’s stomach churns violently the minute he catches sight of it, and he reaches into the sink, grasping the handle of the bread knife as hard as he possibly can.
The thing on the ceiling shivers with amusement, but no sound comes from it. Instead, its laughter echoes off the inside of Austin’s head, the chittering, psychic noise making him flinch, the familiarity of it knocking the wind out of him. He meets the thing’s eyes, forcing one word up his throat and past his lips, just to be sure.
The husk of Abbott’s body smiles, its lips far too wide for its face.
Are you surprised?