THE STANTON CREEK SHREDDER - by Ray O'Bannon
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Melvin Partridge hadn't really smiled in a very long time, and he wasn't smiling now as he shuffled slowly through the park, snow frosting the brim of his felt hat and the shoulders of his cheap cotton jacket. He leaned heavily on his cane as he topped the small hill at the end of Hampstead Street and stood gazing across the empty expanse of the parking lot. The lot was always deserted this late at night, and there were times, on late November evenings like this one, that it seemed almost more solemn and ghostly than the cemetery that lay beyond.
Silence blanketed the night as Melvin crossed from one circle of light to the next. Soon he was at the foot of the small wooden bridge that crossed Stanton Creek and led into the cemetery. Just a little while, he told himself, and he'd be back in his apartment with a warm drink, a good book, and his favorite music in the player. But first he'd have to cross the snowbound land of the dead that stood before him.
His ankle hurt worse than usual tonight. Must be the cold, he told himself. Winter hadn't used to bother him, but anymore he could never seem to get warm enough. He paused to shake away the snow that had somehow gotten between his gloves and his coat sleeves, and couldn't help smiling at the thought of what Charley would have said if he were here.
"Whattsamatter, ya wussy? Scared of the grave yard, are ya?" Charley would have smirked. Melvin and Charley had been the best of friends for many years and generally met at the Madison Theater on Friday nights to attend the late show. The Madison always ran a horror film of some sort for the late show on Fridays, and somewhere in the waiting line of 20-something goths and punkers, you could usually find the two old men in their plaid coats and rubber galoshes, nibbling their popcorn and discussing the finer aspects of zombie films. After the film Charley would wander off north to his little green cottage on Maple Avenue, and Melvin would shamble off to his apartment, cutting through the cemetery to shorten the walk home by a few blocks. Charley never parted without ribbing Melvin about the cemetery, claiming there were rumors of some monster waiting in there, waiting for him to venture past. Melvin knew Charley actually envied the mild adventure of walking through the place, so he couldn't help chuckling at the increasingly outlandish monstrosities Charley would dream up to frighten him with. It had all been great fun before the Shredder first struck. Then it wasn't funny at all.
Seven people had been killed in the cemetery, and the manner of their deaths had been kept quiet by both the press and the police. Public speculation included lurid reports of how the victims had been literally torn to pieces, and some claimed the pieces were too small to be recognizable as anything other than scattered scraps of meat. 'The Shredder' quickly became local legend, and no matter how unbelievable the stories, the fact remained that people were actually being killed in that cemetery. Charley had begun to show genuine hostility at Melvin's continued refusal to take a longer route home on Friday nights, but they both knew Melvin was too set in his ways, and would never allow himself to be bullied into changing his course. Not even if the bully was, as the legends claimed, far more than an animal and far less than a human being. Usually Melvin would change the subject by laughing at Charley's Twilight Zone watch, which glowed in the dark, and things would get back to normal. But Melvin knew Charley was genuinely worried, so he had finally promised to start taking the longer route home. But of course he never actually did.
Melvin crossed the bridge and entered the silent cemetery. The town's lights reflected back from the low banks of storm clouds, bathing the grounds in a dim eerie glow. Tombs and headstones rose up darkly around him, and a nearly unnatural silence reigned. Bare branches seemed to beckon him onward, and he had to chuckle in spite of himself. This place really WAS spooky, and it didn't take a lot of imagination to give you some serious doubts about crossing through it on a night like this.
Whump! The sound of falling snow startled him so badly he nearly fell himself. Spinning around, he saw pine branches still shaking as a large amount of snow crashed downward onto the path behind him. Had something shaken the tree? Were those markings in the snow footprints, and had he seen a furtive movement behind the tree? "Get real", he mumbled softly. But he continued to glance nervously about as he entered the heart of the cemetery.
It was only when he reached the large marble tomb with the carved angels that he looked downward. He had told himself he wasn't going to look down when he reached this spot, that he was just going to walk calmly by and not look down. But of course he had looked down, and of course the bloodstains were still there. Tiny dark spots speckled the base of an urn, and a small streak of burgundy still ran across the cold grey concrete at the foot of the tomb. He stared grimly at the stains, amazed that so much hideous carnage could leave so little trace, just a few scattered drops of blood. Charley's blood.
It hadn't been any mythical 'Shredder' that had murdered Charley, just somebody with a blunt instrument and no appreciation of the fact that Charley was a human being. He had been clubbed to a nearly unrecognizable mess, and all because he had wanted to meet Melvin before the movie, walk with him through the cemetery, make sure nothing bad happened. Whatta laugh. Melvin choked back an angry tear as he muttered softly "Nice job, ya weenie." And jerked suddenly alert when he heard the cold ugly laughter that followed his remark.
A few dozen yards away he could see them, two dark forms hunkered down in the snow. Their loud drunken laughter was punctuated with vulgar bellows as one of them smashed a bottle against a headstone. Melvin stepped forward quietly, hoping to pass by unnoticed, but a sheet of ice suddenly cracked beneath his shoes, the sound instantly silencing the two dark figures as they jumped to their feet.
Turning towards him, the taller of the two pointed directly at Melvin and mumbled something to his friend before moving forward. The smaller of the two stood motionless for a moment, and Melvin could see that he was a youth of perhaps 18, pudgy and cruel looking. The kid was holding a crowbar. But rather than advance, he turned and sprinted off, fading into the taller tombs in the darkness. Melvin looked back in time to see the other figure stepping onto the path in front of him. This one was holding the broken half of a whiskey bottle.
"Sup, old man?" sneered the lanky teen, his pimpled face grinning like a reptile. "This here's your lucky day, pops!" And he staggered closer waving the broken bottle slowly in front of him.
"See, there's this nasty bad Shredder beasty runnin' around loose, and he eats old creeps like you for supper, gramps! Yeah, he was right behind you all ready to chow you right down! Only me and Louie, we showed up first and kicked his ass, so now you owe us for savin' your scrawny old self." And at this point all the light went out of the kid's eyes and he suddenly looked deader than the surrounding stonework.
Melvin gripped the cane tighter, considering using it as a weapon. But then the crowbar crunched into the back of his skull and he heard the pudgy kid's ugly laughter as he fell to the cold uncaring ground.
Darkness threatened to spin him into nonexistence, but the tear forming in his eye was not for himself. He could suddenly so clearly remember a day in the late sixties, sunshine gleaming on the bright blue plastic of his transistor radio as The Fifth Dimension sang about the dawning of a whole new age. And you could almost believe it as you looked around at the bright young faces, the vibrant colors exploding everywhere, and the whole world bursting with a sense of arrival. It felt like mankind had finally gotten a clue, was finally ready to get past all the violence and selfishness and stupidity. It seemed everyone was finally ready to just throw down their weapons and evolve. It was all going to be so beautiful, so wonderful. And then somehow it had all just slipped quietly away, just as Melvin was slipping away now. "Such a pity", he thought as the roaring blankness approached. "It could have been so cool".
Danny grabbed the old man's wallet from Louie's pudgy fingers. "Gimme that, you loser. You get the watch and rings, I get the cash. Besides, you got the last wallet!"
"That's crap", whined Louie, "I'm the one who whacked him!" They stood there sizing each other up a moment, each wondering if he couldn't just trash the other and have it all. But then they heard something peculiar behind them, an odd popping sound, and both spun around to stare at the crumpled body of the old man lying in the snow.
There was something wrong with the shape of him. An odd fluttering was taking place beneath his coat, just above the spine. His limbs were beginning to twitch on the cold stone path, and his legs seemed to be growing longer, mutating into a shape with more angles than there should be. His fingers suddenly ripped through the cheap gloves, sharp talons clattering on the frozen ground. Massive wings tore through the coat as Danny and Louie stared horrified. The old man slowly rose to his feet, but they were no longer really feet. And he wasn't really Melvin anymore, not now that the change had come again. Not now that the hunger was upon him.
Danny and Louie stood gazing up at a monstrosity beyond nightmare. Louie now made the last decision he would even make in this life, and like most of his previous ones it was entirely incorrect. He darted forward with the crowbar, drunkenly thinking he'd show that jerk Danny how much tougher he was, how much braver, how the crowbar he had begun to swing was suddenly protruding from his own chest. The Shredder moved like lightning, hooking a talon under his jaw and lifting him bodily into the air. It drew him close and peered into his eyes for a brief moment before hurling his shuddering form into the night. He fell across a headstone, his spine snapping loudly. The Shredder turned to face the other of the two.
Danny was crying like a child and had wet himself. He backed away in utter terror, pleading to be spared. And somewhere in the deepest heart of the Shredder, something paused to consider. Should it deny the hunger, deny it's very nature, and show mercy? The part of it that was still Melvin looked out at the pleading hands held out to ward it off. And saw Charley's Twilight Zone watch glowing weakly.
Danny never felt his arms being torn off. It was over much too quickly. But as the Shredder slammed his quivering torso up against the cold stone tomb behind him, it drew near and met his eye. And in that silent cemetery night it did something it had never tried to do before. It spoke.
"Yooo jussst donnn't gettt ittttttt, doooooo yooo? I HAAAAAD tooo beee thisssssss! Buttttt yooo...yooooo could havvvvvve beeeeeeeeeen ANYTHIIIIIIIIING!!!"
And then it hurled Danny to the ground, it's teeth glistening wetly in the moonlight.
After a time the creature finished it's grim purpose. The feeding would sustain it, and it would live on. It knew no guilt or remorse at having feasted, that was for it's other self, the part that walked about while it was dormant. The part that was Melvin Partridge. It would feed when it needed to and when it wasn't hungry it would be Melvin and wear plaid coats and enjoy horror movies.
In a quiet corner of the cemetery the creature curled itself, preparing for the sleep that would transform it into its milder shape. It wondered dimly what the future might hold. The future was always uncertain, and therefore always frightening. In the back of its mind it could hear a guy named Charley laughing.
"Whattsamatter? Scared, ya wussy?" And a guy named Melvin answered "No, not really." And then the creature slept.