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Excerpt for Death Shadows: The Flesh Eaters of Skid Row by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Death Shadows

Smashwords Edition/Copyright © K. G. Godel 2019

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This is a work of a fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons or events, past or present, is purely coincidental.

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Death Shadows

The Flesh Eaters of Skid Row


1

9: 25 AM



The man laying face down on the concrete was etched by the ascending sun in a shroud of shadows; the creeping silhouette was the only component of the lifeless figure that remained capable of animation.

Morning light could take the dirt and ugliness of mundane reality and bath it in a glowing halo, but even without a dead body decorating its barren surface, the industrial park on the east side of the city was a formidable challenge for the golden lamp of the sky. The hard, rough assemblies of cement and steel, the grime of metropolitan trash, and the dull hopeless monotony of abandoned civilization could not be rendered beautiful under any lighting source except that of a purging fire.

The site was a square in formation and measuring a city block, approximately two football fields side by side, closed off by the sheer walls of decrepit buildings or eight-foot fences covered in graffiti, while isolated clusters of debris were scattered across the vast concrete plain like ghost towns in a desert. A few rusted vehicles, obsolete manufacturing machinery, and tire mounds littered the Wasteland, as it was popularly nicknamed. It had an undistinguished history of muggings, drug overdoses, gang beatings and reprisal attacks, indecent exposure, murder, and every other depravity routinely exhibited in the urban forest.

The vagrants with a shred of dignity shunned the habitat, as it was notorious for being devoid of sustenance and an oasis of misery.

The park’s long-term residents were of a less finicky and more desperate class of urban homeless. None were under thirty and all were too weak to compete with the aggressive bums lording over the best territory blocks away.

The fort-like area might have been impoverished, but they had it to themselves, excusing the occasional gang member or drug dealer who chanced upon it before discerning it to be a badlands of reject humanity that they were eager to flee. The wide field of concrete with a few patches of wretched vegetation poking from the cracks could reach Sahara-worthy temperatures by mid-afternoon, and the narrow shaded portions along the perimeter would get nearly as unpleasant due to the dry hot winds frequently drifting across it. The regular inhabitants sought cooler environs before one o’clock.

Luther “the professor” Morgan wiggled out from the cardboard sarcophagus he called his bedroom, stretched his aching limbs, and then took a deep breath. Sunshine and fresh air (relatively speaking) were two commodities that remained without a price tag, and these days he fully appreciated both. The forty-seven year-old hardly remembered the time when he took them for granted and cherished things that were far less important in life.

He observed another resident Carl, lounging in his ancient and torn army tent, tinkering with an old portable radio.

“Morning Carl,” he said.

“I can’t get any goddamn stations,” mumbled his fifty-five year old neighbor. “Static on every freaking channel.”

The professor spotted his other neighbor Frank rising from his own domicile, a makeshift bunker affixed to the posterior door of an unoccupied building.

“Well another beautiful morning,” Luther announced amicably. He shuffled to his feet and walked over to the nearest garbage can. With dainty handling he scrutinized the contents.

“What’s for breakfast? Let’s see here…Half a rotten banana, a sandwich…”

A soda can caught his attention. He shook it, the splashing sound within indicated a quantity of drinkable liquid.

“Warm beverage. That’ll do.”

As Morgan took a swig of the sour-tasting fluid, he saw Frank wobbling on unsteady legs into the main section of the industrial park. The vagrant was pushing sixty-five and hard of hearing. His blood-shot eyes had seen it all: pick-pocketing, carjacking, and every kind of street abuse from rape to homicide.

“Hey Frank, where you heading?” he shouted after him.

“Gonna see what’s in the cans behind the restaurant,” his neighbor answered with a hoarse cough interspersed between the words. “They had a junior league party last night. I can smell those juicy leftovers.”

“Save me a dessert!” his dumpster-diving cohort replied jokingly.

“Ok doke professor,” Frank waved good-naturedly.

The professor was a name Morgan preferred his homeless comrades would not use, but he understood it was meant as endearment as much as a teasing reminder of his fallen economic rank. He did not speak like the typical street survivor. His vocabulary was extensive and he could shape words in ways that mystified his simple companions. Over time, Morgan had learned to suppress his tendencies for verbal complexity, shrewdly detecting when he had said something that soared up and beyond the heads in his open air classroom.

Frank walked towards a recess which bordered an exit to the street.

He stopped in his tracks midway across the barrens and declared in surprise, “What the hell?”

Luther lazily glanced his way. Frank was looking down at something on the bare concrete. He thought it had to be impressive to stir curiosity in the old bum.

“What is it?”

“There’s a guy here.”

Not particularly impressive an answer, Morgan thought. Street dwellers were well known to plant themselves anywhere they felt like it, especially when inebriated. He took a guess, “Who? Jerry?”

“No,” was Frank’s stern response. “He’s younger. He isn’t moving…I think he’s dead.”

Morgan became intrigued. A well-to do corpse in the street was not in itself a unique occurrence in the city, but inside the Wasteland was far less common. The usual cadaver was an old vagrant or narcotics casualty. He strolled over to his colleague and observed the body of a thirty-year old man with a crew cut, wearing glasses, sporting a shirt and tie, and lying on his stomach. The lenses of his spectacles were cracked.

“He’s dead alright. A mugging victim probably. Did you hear anything?” Luther asked.

“Nope, I was sleeping like a baby,” Frank retorted unemotionally. More eagerly he added, “I wonder if he’s got any change on him they missed.”

The code of the urban jungle: if tragedy could be turned into opportunity, you did not let it pass by.

As his companion rifled through the man’s pockets, Morgan turned to examine the alley entrance that the body was facing away from. It was a narrow space between the buildings and strewn with industrial refuse. The only other nearby access to the street was obscured behind five gallon drums and the rusted chassis of a delivery van.

He noticed a length of old fire hose on the ground snaking along the pavement towards the darkness of the alley. The rubber was stiff and fractured with holes. It had been a resident of the park for ages and Morgan had no reason to take interest in it except a feeling he had that it was a silent witness to whatever had killed the stranger.

Yet there was something else. For unspecific reasons the professor stared into the thin strip of shadow marking the tubing’s contact with the cement, observing the strong contrast between the glow of the gypsum and the bleak umbra. He followed it towards the body, and saw the hose terminated under the man’s fingers which were resting on a rectangular object.

“What’s that by his right hand?” he asked the crouching Frank as he walked towards it.

His friend shrugged indifferently, “He’s got a book under him.”

The elder vagrant had to pry the item from the dead stranger’s fingers. He thumbed through the pages and muttered indifferently, “Some weird shit. I can’t read this. You’re the professor.”

“I was the professor,” his jobless colleague corrected him. Morgan peered over Frank’s shoulder. The pages contained hand-written notes. He deciphered physics formulas among them and his curiosity went off the charts since he recognized some of the mathematical lingo from his former life in academics.

He squinted; his view of the paper partially obscured by the sun hitting him directly in the face.

“Hey, what you guys up to?” a voice asked, prompting Morgan to twist around.

Harry, another middle-aged inhabitant of the park, had emerged from his sleeping quarters on the opposite side of the square and was advancing towards them at a leisurely pace.

Morgan headed for a rendezvous with Harry when he was startled by a bizarre sound. It was a rapidly augmented crackling hiss which became almost ear-antagonistic before it was surpassed by a terrible scream.

It came from Frank, kneeling on the ground. As Luther directed his eyes to him, an explosion of dark red engulfed the elderly vagrant. Literally, the old man disintegrated into a frame of blood-soaked bones before collapsing upon a puddle of liquid gore. The book fell with a pronounced thud next to it.

“Frank!” Morgan cried out.

Harry was aroused by the commotion and scurried to the scene. He stood over the red-stained carnage, a bewildered expression on his face.

“Luther. My God, what happened?” he inquired.

His companion was staring at the ground, trying to make sense of the occurrence. The glistening skull of his dead friend, trickling droplets of blood, grinned vacantly from the steaming heap that lay exposed in the morning sun.

Morgan stumbled over his words, “I don’t know, he touched that book and then he… exploded.”

Harry’s reaction was skeptical. He reached down for the book.

“Better stay b—!” Morgan started to caution him.

It was too late. Harry’s body erupted into a mass of red gore, and moments later, the only traces of his existence were a bloody stain and scattered bone fragments.

“Harry!” Morgan screamed in helpless panic. He then retreated, staggering backwards before turning and running for his life. The possibility of explosive devices hidden in the cement absorbed his thinking. Only a bomb or concentrated acid could destroy a human being so quickly and effectively, the professor speculated. He probed the ground as he jogged and did not see the three aggressive-looking young men in his path until he was colliding with them.

Leon, Eugene, and Alfredo were their names. They were entrepreneurs of illicit substances who used the cement park as a business office on occasion. Eugene was the oldest, Alfredo the tallest, and Leon, as their self-appointed leader, was the meanest of the trio. Conceited yet charming, his reputation for bullying cruelty was known to all the vagrants thus they avoided him with alacrity. Although they were decisively wild and unpleasant, and prone to verbally abusing their elders, on the particular occasion Morgan was relieved to see them.

“Hey bum!” Eugene greeted him cheerfully. “Where’re you going in such a hurry?”

“Fellas,” Morgan panted breathlessly. “We got to get out of here. There’s something in the shadows.”

Al chuckled, “What’s he saying?”

“He’s loaded!” Leon theorized.

Morgan shook his head emphatically. “No! It’s true! Maybe land mines planted all over the place. We’ve got to get out of here.”

The young men did not need to speak what they were thinking: that the hobo was drugged or crazy. But wishing to demonstrate their bravado, the trio pushed the professor in front of them, confidently walking towards the scene of the disturbance with their reluctant guide.

"Calm down Luther," Leon urged in a falsely soothing voice. "We'll take a look and see what's up, ok?"

The book lay on the pavement next to the intermingled stains of dark red. The skeletal remains had crumbled, becoming almost unidentifiable as human. The corpse of the stranger provoked a serious expression in Eugene. Alfredo took the initiative.

“I’ll check it out,” he said.

“Holy shit!” he spat, seeing the blood and corpse up close. “Hey guys, there’s a lot of blood over here.”

Leon poked Morgan in the chest. “What’d you do Luther?”

“Nothing,” he assured him, shrugging in a dumbfounded manner.

Eugene smiled mischievously. “You know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking Luther went psycho on a couple of his bum buddies. Cut them into little pieces.”

Alfredo grinned, “Man, the cops gonna love this.”

Leon was grim-faced. He stated bluntly, “They won’t believe this wino did it. They’ll arrest our asses for it.”


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