*All stories best read on nickpetrouauthor.com as “WordPress Reader” omits formatting
Or there is the PDF version for convenience: Underside
Please excuse my tacky cover image, ha. Really, it has very little to do with this short story.
Based upon a dream I had…
It was the waking hour of things nocturnal. But this human creature was not one to dwell in darkness with dilated eyes like some wild cat. His combat against the night was the shifting glow of a monitor, which presented him the hideous underside of the internet. And there, clashing nails upon eerie red letters, he loitered, until a small rectangle of illuminance begged an answer.
He wondered who, from an unknown number, would call at such a time, while the vibrations rotated the device to meet his hand.
He answered the call, then wedged the phone between his headset and ear.
“Hello. William Laney? Brother of Malcolm Laney?”
The nocturnal creature could sense it already — the stranger’s voice hosting some radiational sickness that would, in but a few miserable words, inflict great suffering upon him.
“Yes. Who is this?” choked William.
“I am afraid I have some bad news, son.”
The clouds always seem to pass over a wedding, and this day was no different. It was a glorious Spring morning, and the church basked in it not dissimilarly to the family and friends of Tyler Barrett. They had, with gleeful smiles and wine, made claim to the grasses and gardens of the yard — over one-hundred of them, many of which had made the trip from England just for the occasion.
“This is my sort of wedding,” said Aunt Maddison. “Red wine before the ceremony. Who would have thought?”
“Easy, dear,” said her husband. “Save room for the reception.”
“Oh, shove off, Howard. How can I possibly embarrass myself? We’re surrounded by family.”
“The Laney’s wouldn’t miss their own son’s wedding, dear.”
“Look about you, Howard. The only person we don’t know is that young man over there.” Maddison points to the small, beige-bricked wall tracing the church. “And he hasn’t stopped weeping since we got here.”
Howard scanned the area. “Quite right, dear.”
A boy in a suit had snuck up patiently behind Maddison and Howard, and made his presence known with a clearing of the throat. “Excuse me, the priest has asked us in, Aunt Maddy.”
“Ahhh, you are a good boy, Henry. Your uncle and I will be right there.”
Then Tyler Barret’s extended family, nerves quelled by the wine, funnelled into the church.
“As simple on the inside as the out,” said Maddison as she shuffled to the end of the bench alongside her husband in the second row.
“I rather fancy it, dear, and it looks just enough for us all to fit.”
“They think about that sort of thing before the ceremony, Howard,” said Maddison. “Oh, look, Howard, it’s the bridesmaids. Why are they down here?” She points, between heads, to the row of women in purple gowns seated on the other side of the church.
“I wouldn’t know, dear. Not the most conventional wedding, I dare say.”
A priest walked out from a curtained room to the side of the altar. His eyes were red and wet, and he gestured for someone to follow him through. Then a golden trolley was birthed into the room; upon it was a large box veiled in a white cloth trimmed in gold. As it was pushed nearer to the altar, it cawed painfully, and brought the crowded, snickering room to a deathly silence.
The priest’s quaky voice restored sound to the room. “On behalf of Miss Tyler Barret, I would like to thank you all for coming. Before we begin, let us bow our heads in prayer… Almighty God…”
“Howard… what’s in the box?” Maddison whispered.
“Quiet, dear, we’re trying to pray.”
“Howard, you buffoon, does this feel like a wedding to you?”
“The only thing I pray for is you to gain some common sense… and backbone. That box — I think I know what’s in it.”
“Amen,” ended the prayer.
“And now, family and friends of Miss Tyler Barret and Mr Malcolm Laney, it is with great regret that I inform you that I will not be leading today’s proceedings. I will leave that to the… uh… bride to be… Miss Tyler Barret herself. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Please stand.”
“Howard, there is something going on here.”
“Maddison, I told you to go easy on the wine. I told you. Now please do shut it.”
The dark wooded doors at the back of the church were pulled open, and Tyler Barret walked in on the arm of her father. Black streaks of makeup tore at her once-beautiful face, and, on second observation, one would have noticed that she didn’t merely take the arm of her father, she leant upon it, as if her next step would have seen her to the carpeted floor.
The crowd murmured, affirming their suspicions with those seated near.
Upon the altar, Tyler hugged her father goodbye, and gestured one of her bridesmaids to bring her a small, tan handbag, and for the rest to remain seated. Standing alone, she wiped black tears as best she could from her porcelain skin, and began her speech.
“When you find out that the man you are to marry dies on the day before the wedding, what are you to do?” she laughed.
Her family and friends inhaled like they were each and all gasping for breath in an atmosphere void of oxygen.
“I am sorry,” she sobbed. “It’s not at all funny. But no less is the occurrence true. Soon you may look upon his sleep, much of his blessed face remains intact.” Then she wept smiling for several minutes while the crowd absorbed the reality of her, and their own, circumstance. A few times during, a comforter rose, but each time they were cast back to their seat. Each call of condolence was answered by a directed grin and a nod of the head, but that was all.
“You were all so, so kind to come down here just for me. And I feel so, so blessed to see each of your faces. My poor, sweet, dear, fiancé was killed in a car accident on the freeway. He was on his way to his brother William’s house to settle his nerves for today.” Tyler made eye-contact with William, who was sobbing lightly over his brother’s coffin. “You are all probably… utterly confused, I know I am. But I set out to marry this man, and that’s what I am going to do. There is no life nor eternity which I could endure without his blessed guidance and embrace. I hope the wine was enough to get you through this, and I hope… no… I know that God is here with us. I feel His love within me, urging its way out. This is all part of His plan to bring us together… forever. Uh… Amen.”
The church’s carpet soaked in salty tears, though not the slightest utterance was heard. Then, when sufficient time had been allowed for Tyler Barret’s family and friends to convince themselves that they were indeed awake, the priest began the ceremony.
Over the elongated, foreboding ritual, Maddison’s whispers could not be heard.
“See, Howard, you old twat. I told you something stunk in here!”
“Dear, we are in a church, and our poor Tyler is to be wed this very instant. Have you no decency beyond a glass of wine?”
After the dead and living were united, Maddison stirred once more. “We can’t let the girl do this. It isn’t right.”
“What would you have me do, dear wife? Shhh! Shhh! She is about to speak again,” Howard scratched.
“Dear family and friends, I thank you so, so truly and passionately, and under the roof of God, for being here and seeing me through this. And, now and forever, I am wed to my lovely, kind, Malcolm. God has willed it this way, I say. He, and only He, can know how honest and blessed our love was.” She looked to the stained-glass window high at the rear of the church. “I can see Him now, dear family and friends! He waits for me!” she shouted in a holy ecstasy.
“He knows something!” whispered Maddison, as William Laney crept from his dead brother’s side to hide among the curtains.
The priest scowled at Maddison, and she hunched into her blazer.
“Jesus Christ, Howard, are you so blind and deaf that you cannot see where this is leading.”
“I come to you Malcolm, dearest husband! See me ride! The gates swing open for our chariot!”
Then Tyler Laney picked up the bag given to her by the bridesmaid, and pulled from it a handgun. Her family and friends, the priest, and God Himself were in too potent a shock to react. Quickly, the gun was beneath Tyler’s chin, pointed to the back of her skull.
But it just clicked — six times, each attempt more desperate than the last. In the eyes of God — and bare upon mind that He can no longer see her — the woman had wished truly upon her own death six times.
“William!” she roared, and collapsed into a white and lacey mess.
The priest stepped in to grasp her, but was thrown back across the top of the altar, where he crashed to the floor in silence.
Then a wretched tonal hail barraged the church. Its vile reverberation caused the family and friends of Tyler Laney to cower into the wooden grain. None could scream, for their throats now breathed the dry thickness of Hell itself!
“Forfeit!” it spoke. “Thy soul is forfeit!”
And with these suffering words, the entire crowd urinated, defecated.
Then upon the altar, below a large cross, Tyler Laney unbundled… and changed.
Sharp, cruel teeth pierced through her gums and lapped the former. Her blue eyes blackened to a hateful, unseen shade. Her silence ripped into a horrible, ear-splitting cackle. Then her skin peeled from the bone, exposing some reptile-like flesh, which elongated her body to arachnid proportions.
“Thy soul is forfeit! Witness ye! Thy body is my!”
“Howard, do something!” moaned Aunt Maddison, staring upon a creature from the hideous underside of human invention stilting toward her. “Howard, you fool!”
But Howard had been reduced to a shivering puddle, and there was only Baal to quell her screams.