A Most Unfortunate Man

Darkness descended over the small town. From every corner, a black curtain fringed with mist enveloped homes, hotels, and the meandering stream that some call the town’s river. All things appeared to be in order—all quaint, cozy, and tranquil. But a small and wretched corner existed on the other side of the water. 

There, tucked between furnaces and towers belching smoke, sat the town’s sewage treatment facility and chemical processing plant. Such combined fortifications are not unknown in small towns. To save space and resources, the town had created a flat area of gravel and tar and filled it with multiple buildings. Half of the property was dedicated to turning sewage into drinking water. Given that said idea is unpalatable to most, the town wisely placed the plant far away from most eyes and embedded it within another structure. Said structure, a chemical processing plant, could not have been more nondescript. Beyond the parking lot and circular guardhouse (which included a simple robotic gate controlled from the inside), the plant contained six squat, box-like offices, a few metal scaffolds, and three truck bays. Most of the work was done in the truck bays, with men in hard hats filling up and emptying large containers full of isodecyl alcohol, hydrochloric acid, and, most dangerous of all, phosphorus trichloride. It could be dangerous work. All new employees at both plants spent their first days listening to horror stories about gruesome accidents caused by lax alertness and/or drunken negligence. By the end, most convinced themselves to remain as on-guard as possible to prevent skin-melting acid burns or corrosive excrement explosions from untreated pipes. 

One employee listened to these warnings and smiled. A soft, cherubic fellow with rosy cheeks and pale skin, his name was Clyde Marston. Unlike the others, Clyde’s employment precluded him from handling any kind of dangerous chemicals. Indeed, Clyde’s job was “cake” when it came to any kind of physical activity at all. Clyde was hired to be the night watchman—a position that asked little and expected even less. 

Before discussing the horrific circumstances of Clyde Marston’s demise, it is appropriate
(and somewhat empathetic) to tell of this poor, unfortunate man’s life. 

Clyde came into the world with multiple handicaps. A fat newborn who became a fatter adult, Clyde found it impossible to shake his so-called “baby weight.” Clyde and his mother blamed his unhealthy girth on a myriad of factors—water retention, chronic pain, poor genetics, and too much milk. More obvious answers, such as Clyde’s daily consumption of soda and high fructose corn syrup, or his aversion to exercise, were glossed over with various hand waves and shoulder shrugs. Clyde’s mother did not help in this manner, and in fact she did not help at all. 

Loretta Marston never wanted to be a mother in the first place. She had a lot of fun in her teenage years, and she wanted to continue the trend during her twenties. Unfortunately, one fun night with an unknown drug addict and serial boozehound ended Loretta’s aspirations. Clyde came into the world nine months later, and yet Loretta never really became a mother. She let the television and the computer raise Clyde. She worked when she wanted to and collected unemployment when she didn’t. Her elderly parents served as unpaid babysitters while Loretta continued to haunt bars. This only ended when others finally worked up the courage to tell her that it was unseemly for a single mother to act in such a way. Offended, Loretta retreated to her dilapidated rental and stayed there for years. She hardly left her sanctuary again. Clyde was drafted to fetch groceries and beer from the convenience store. Then, years after that, Clyde was drafted to find work in order to “feed the family” (see feed Loretta and her lethargy). 

Clyde followed the trends of his peers by getting his first job at a fast-food restaurant. The fact that Clyde did this much later in life than others was no concern; the restaurant needed bodies badly, as the town’s residents found the burgers and fries impossible to resist. Clyde showed up for his first day bright and eager. He had some mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes on their first day. The second day was similar, and so too were the next several days. It did not take long for the restaurant’s manager to worry about Clyde’s lack of progress. 

And then the sick calls began. Once every two weeks became once a week. Then Clyde’s grandmother died (not true). By the time that she did die for real, Clyde did not need to call off that day. He was already unemployed. 

Clyde was happy to collect unemployment. But, for reasons that defied logic, Loretta denigrated Clyde daily about his lack of a job. She called him lazy, worthless, shiftless, and a whole host of other nasty names. The constant harassment had an effect; Clyde eventually put in job applications. After a month, the security officer at the chemical plant contacted him. Clyde was hired for the position after his first interview. This had nothing to do with the quality of Clyde’s resume. The plant simply needed someone and had a hard time keeping employees, especially night watchmen. The plant wanted to keep the reason for the high turnover as quiet as possible, so they never once said anything about the cemetery or ghosts to Clyde. He had to find out about them on his own. 

The duties of the night watchman were simple: watch the CCTV cameras, check-in any after-hours visitors, and do a tour of the plant every two hours. Even with these simple tasks, Clyde found things to complain about. He complained about all the walking involved, he bellyached about the cameras, and he winged about how the hours hurt his sleep schedule. Clyde also showed his displeasure by doing a lackluster job. He found places to hide and nap during his rounds, and often Clyde looked at his phone rather than the cameras. Therefore Clyde did not notice the cemetery until the animals started showing up. 

One rainy night in April, Clyde was convinced that the apocalypse had finally come. In just the first hour of his shift, heavy rains caused a flood in the parking lot, a series of lighting strikes caused the plant to temporarily lose power, and the high winds scattered trash everywhere. Clyde knew he had to pick the trash up, but he chose not to. He even shirked his basic duty of doing tours, for, after midnight, Clyde noticed a black snake climbing its way up the guardhouse’s back door. Clyde watched in horror as the slithering shape slowly inched up the glass to find shelter from the downpour. A normal man would have struck the glass, but Clyde retreated to his chair and pretended that the outside world did not exist at all. The outside world would not let Clyde have peace or quiet. 

While Clyde cowered, three deer, all young males, appeared on one of the CCTV cameras. If Clyde had been paying attention, he would have noticed the strange behavior of the deer. The three hopped the fence and raced towards their destination with an uncommon sense of purpose. Eventually the cameras lost sight of them. No cameras overlooked the cemetery, and that is where the deer came to a sudden stop. As if responding to a signal, the three lifted their noses and breathed in the night air. None appeared to be bothered by the rain at all. The deer waited patiently in the rain until, at the precise time that the clock struck three a.m., they all shoved their mouths in the grass. They began eating. They ate feverishly as if they were suffering from the same famine. The grass of the cemetery was uprooted and consumed until nothing was left. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, they departed back into the night. 

Clyde saw none of this. He spent that entire shift watching his cellphone. He similarly missed the march of the snakes the next night. Like the deer before them, the snakes moved in unison. It was hard to count them all, for they made a single black mass. Among their members was the snake that had frightened Clyde the night before. He had no idea that the snake’s mission was not relief from the storm, but rather Clyde’s flesh. On that night, the snake and his brethren had another mission. They moved towards the cemetery, moved past the smaller headstones, and came to a sudden stop at the largest headstone. All at once they began digging. They dug until, as a mass, they disappeared underneath the soil. The snakes kept descending lower and lower until they reached the coffin. In the complete blackness they found an entry point. The wet, rotten wood contained a frayed edge near the corpse’s right foot. The first snake slithered, and the rest followed. 

Their task was complete by three a.m. 

Clyde remained oblivious to it all. He slept through the snakes. 

The third night fell on April 30. Clyde had no idea about the significance of the date. Few in the town did either. The one person who did was Kody Hess. He knew the holiday well, for it formed a central holiday within his religion. The religion had been passed down to Kody by his grandfather, who had learned the cunning ways from his own grandfather. That ancestor, Johannes Hess, had left his home in the Harz Mountains for America at the turn of the last century. He brought all the traditions and rituals with him. He remained a practitioner until the day he died, which happened to be April 30, 1933. Johannes was interned following a small ceremony attended only by family members. He was buried next to cousins, brothers, and sisters on the Hess family farm. The death, like Johannes’s life, went unnoticed and unrecorded by the town. 

In 1975, after the Hess family declared bankruptcy, the farm was purchased by the town. Years later, they turned the property into a waste treatment plant, and then a chemical plant. As for the family cemetery, it was left to rot in a small patch of grass near the edge of the chemical processing area. The plant pretended to care about upkeep, and they even hired a caretaker to oversee the small plot. This ended when word spread that the last of the Hess line had died. At that point, the caretaker was let go and the cemetery was given over to nature. 

Around the same time, the first of the ghost stories began circulating around. Some claimed to see a headless ghost walking near the old farm at night, while others spoke of a pair of ghosts seen hitchhiking on the bridge leading out of the town. The most common story said that amorphous shadow people haunted the plant and were known to cause accidents. Several former workers agreed with these tales. They blamed the shadow creatures for their early exits from the plant. 

The news of the Hess family’s demise never reached Kody. As the last male, he had been sent to live in Germany. There, Kody received a formal education and an occult one. The latter came from an ancient second cousin originally from the Banat. During the summers, Kody was taken deep down the Danube and into Transylvania. There, in an abandoned village called Stregoicavar, Kody was initiated into the family. The family included several wizened crones who whispered rather than spoke. The men, like his strange cousin, talked of memories of life before World War I. They all told Kody that the coven had existed long before their people had arrived in Central Europe from Asia. He heard stories of the witch times on the steppes, when their ancestors had communed directly with the dead and other, nonhuman spirits. Over cups of bitter wine, Kody’s ears were soothed with tales of conquests led by chthonic deities. He listened to poems read aloud from the Irq Bitig. They then ritually mourned the various armies, including those among the re-born who had been slaughtered by the Christian army of King Otto at Lechfeld. After much weeping, the hour approached. They all, except for the novice Kody, felt in their bones the coming of three a.m. 

At the hour, they informed their newest member about hidden mysteries, such as the gods who ruled the cosmos before the coming of Jehovah. Kody learned certain blood rituals, and about the necessity of drums, and about the necessity of awakening the first gods before the new epoch. To bring about the new age, they insisted on the need to reawaken all the dead mages. Kody learned that his great-grandfather Johannes was one of the mages. Johannes needed to rise again, and it was Kody’s duty to do the rising, they said. 

Kody was given instructions about the purification. Before he could raise his great-grandfather, he needed to purify his body of all toxins. This meant abstaining from alcohol, sex, and all foods enriched with butter or sugar. The period of his purification lasted six years. Kody never backslid, never gave into temptations, and never expressed any displeasure with his mission. He was deemed a true believer and at the hour of completion, he was sent back to the United States. 

Kody’s mission was set to culminate at three a.m. on Walpurgis. Everything went smoothly. Not one, not even the highly curious at the airport, looked twice at Kody. Inside, the scion of a long line of mages and magickians, was bubbling with excitement. He had waited many years to see his great-grandfather rise from the dead, and each minute that drew him closer to the fateful encounter supercharged him so much that he felt it like electricity running through his heart. 

Yes, everything was perfect until literally the last possible resistance point reared its head. That resistance point was Clyde Marston. 

“Hello? Is someone here?” Kody bellowed into the empty guardhouse. It was several minutes before midnight, and there was no one there to register him. Kody clutched the fake contractor credentials in his hand, as well as the fake ID that showed his name as “Steve Carr.” He had to present these to the guard, but there was no guard. 

“Excuse me! I am here to do some work,” Kody continued. 

Clyde could hear the man well enough, but he refused to be interrupted. His ample bottom felt good on the cold plastic mouth of the toilet. Besides, Clyde never allowed anyone to interrupt him when he was enjoying his favorite YouTube videos, and at that moment he was chuckling along to one such video while Kody Hess quickly lost his patience. 

“Hello! Anyone?” Kody kept barking until, after ten minutes, he decided to go back to his rental car and ram through the gates. The ceremony had to be performed no matter what. The laws of man and the chemical be damned. Just as he was pressing his hand on the front door’s horizontal lock, Clyde exited the bathroom. 

“Can I help you?” Clyde said the words by rote and made no pretense that he was happy about the stranger’s presence. 

“Yes, you may. I am a contractor here to do some paving. Here are my credentials.” 

Clyde studied the two IDs perfunctorily. The man’s odd accent, which Clyde could not place, bothered him a little. The fact that a lone contractor was at the plant well after regular hours to do some paving also bothered Clyde, but not enough to stop him from completing the necessary paperwork. Clyde wrote “Steve Carr” down in the Contractor Sign-In Sheet before issuing him a contractor’s badge for the plant. Clyde also issued the man a radio, which was not standard and had not been asked for. 

“Just in case you get lost,” Clyde said. Kody nodded, clipped the radio to his dark trousers, and returned to his vehicle. A mere tap of his badge and he entered the plant seconds later. Clyde watched the nondescript vehicle drive into the heart of the plant without concern or interest. Once the taillights disappeared, Clyde went back to his phone and his YouTube videos. He, like the town he lived and worked in, was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. 

As for Kody, he easily found the cemetery. He had seen it many times in his astral visions. He knew every curve of the cold stones, and he knew the contours of the trees that shaded it in summer. Ultimately, such knowledge was unnecessary, for the animal familiars congregated all along Kody’s route. He saw the glowing eyes of deer, raccoons, and possums in the dark woods beyond the plant’s chain-link fence. He also felt the pulsations of the snakes underground. The earth was waiting to receive its old masters, and as such Kody was given protection to perform his sacred mission. 

From inside the car’s trunk, Kody removed the items that he needed: a copy of the Irq Bitig bound and printed in Vienna in the sixteenth century, as fistful of black candles, and the curved dagger that was supposedly older than the Gobi. Kody brought these items to the graveyard and placed them at his great-grandfather’s headstone. The knife was placed into the rotten soil while Kody lit the candles. Once completed, Kody opened the blasphemous book. He found the pages that he needed. He left the book open as he began to disrobe. Despite the strong breeze, the book stayed in its place and the pages did not stray. A fully nude Kody felt immense pleasure that everything was going as planned, and this pleasure continued and even multiplied as the ritual began. 

Nobody, least of all Clyde, heard Kody’s booming invocations. Kody recited the ritual passages again and again for over an hour. Each time he did so his voice got louder and lower. By the end he was chanting in an unnatural bass baritone. It was his voice that shook the ground and caused the clouds to gather up above. At Kody’s command, the clouds brought forth the rain. 

“Not again!” Back in the guardhouse, Clyde bemoaned the second storm in as many days. He also looked hesitantly at the back door and prayed that the snake would not appear again. Soon enough, the sky cracked and began a major downpour. Clyde yelled at the rain and at God for making everything all wet again. 

Back at the cemetery, Kody began the next phase of the ritual. Nude and soaked to the bone, Kody used his chthonic voice to call forth the sacrifices. Per instruction, the sacrificial bodies had to be volunteers. Kody found the animals eager, as a deer, a raccoon, a fox, and several rats came to him with their necks outstretched. He made sure that every drop of blood poured over his great-grandfather’s grave and down into the soil. He took his time with each sacrifice until the last. This, the final volunteer, required a little less dexterity. Kody picked up the raccoon by its scruff, held it up to the moon, spoke a simple toast, and then used his teeth to bite into the creature. The point of the bite was to create a wound—a wound from which Kody drank. He consumed as much blood as was needed to fill his cheeks. Once accomplished, he placed the raccoon wound side down. He then spit the blood all over the headstone and across his left hand. The vermillion hand then drew a sigil on the headstone and one on Kody’s bare chest. 

As Kody made the final curve in the sigil, lightning began to strike everywhere. Loud and terrifying, the bolts struck near Kody but never touched him. The cacophony was the joyous applause to his performance. It also let Kody know that he was close to completing the mission. He began to salivate at the thought. 

Back in the guardhouse, Clyde had to do everything in his power to keep from crying. He hated lighting like he hated snakes, and on that night, the lightning seemed to be striking precariously close to him. When one struck the robotic gate, thus causing the gate’s arms to fluctuate up and down, Clyde instinctively ducked under his chair and grabbed his knees. He began to rock back and forth and blubber. He prayed that the lightning would go away, but the strikes continued with raging intensity. 

In his panic, Clyde somehow managed to remember the fact that Steve Carr was in the plant. The contractor had driven inside, so was likely hunkered down in his car, Clyde thought. But, out of an abundance of goodwill, Clyde pressed the talk button on his radio. 

“Are you alright, Mr. Carr?” 

No answer. 

“Guardhouse calling Mr. Steve Carr.” 

No answer. 

“Please say something so that I know you’re okay.” 

No answer. 

The silence on the other end of the radio bothered Clyde. In any other circumstance, it would have been as concerning to him as a scratch. However, a small modicum of human decency told Clyde that it was his responsibility to look after Steve Carr’s wellbeing. The oddball contractor needed rescuing, Clyde thought, or at least a check. Clyde grabbed a radio, a rain slicker, a flashlight, and a hardhat. Even though it was just a few steps from the front of the guardhouse to his car in the parking lot, Clyde got soaked to the bone. He created a small bog of sweat and water on his car seat. 

Clyde drove slowly through the plant, as the heavy rains dampened visibility. Clyde was also worried about his nerves, for every bolt of lightning sent his hands into paroxysms of terror. He did not feel safe at all in the car but pressed on. Clyde drove and drove. He drove until he realized that he had made three complete circles of the entire plant. And yet, despite this, he failed to locate Steve Carr. 

“Mr. Carr! Please come in,” Clyde asked again. The defeat was obvious in his voice, but nobody was listening. Clyde took the hint and put the radio down. He pressed his palm into his steering wheel and held the horn for a minute. He hoped that the noise would reach the contractor through the storm, but nothing changed except for the severity of the storm. Without thinking, Clyde’s right foot eased off the brake. He let the car roll through the rain swept plant, while he instead focused on making as much noise with the horn as possible. 

A massive bolt of lightning struck the ground immediately beside Clyde’s car. The impact was so strong that it shook the vehicle. The vibrations traveled from the ground and coursed through Clyde’s already shaking feet. Although no electricity touched him, Clyde felt the panic of impending death. He reacted by slamming his foot on the gas. He drove blindly forward, rushing deep into the cascading downpour. Clyde kept the horn blaring until the car’s old system started to wheeze. The sound grew thinner and thinner, while the storm grew louder. 

Clyde drove like a madman until, like a good vehicular psycho, he created a casualty. A hard thud in the wet blackness sounded off Clyde’s front bumper. The sound moved to the roof before rolling again and coming to a stop in the wet grass. 

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” Clyde opened his door and slipped. He could have landed on his large rump, but instead fell directly on his tailbone. The pain was immediate and excruciating. Clyde mewed like a dying sheep while rolling around the flooded grass. His contortions came while he kept his eyes closed, but eventually he opened them. 

There, spread out motionless to Clyde’s left, was the body of Kody Hess. The powerful magickian who had spent most of his life in a quest to revive his great-grandfather and bring about the return of older life forces, had been killed by a fat slob security guard. The cause of death was a broken neck. Clyde did not check and see, but he did not have to; Kody’s neck was bent at an angle most unnatural. The image was so awful that Clyde failed to notice that the corpse was naked. 

It took several herky-jerky movements and a lifetime of pins and needles for Clyde to reach his feet again. Once completed, he immediately doubled over in pain and massaged his bruised lower back. His mewling continued. He added whimpering too—loud whimpers with exaggerated throat gurgles. Clyde was in pain, but his soft and sedentary lifestyle made an otherwise moderate injury seem fatal. Clyde kept on blubbering until he heard the faint sounds of someone else. 

Someone wheezing drily. 

The noise came from behind him in the darkness. Clyde made a move to turn around and see, but he did not have time. The noise proved much quicker as its rotten hands reached Clyde’s throat and squeezed. Clyde lost consciousness easily and made no effort to fight back.

The two corpses in the grass were both dealt with but dealt with in different ways. The body of Kody Hess still radiated heat from the ritual. There was much power in his flesh, so his entire epidermis, from his face to the bottom of his feet, was removed. The ancient dagger made deft cuts, and the final result was respectable. The skin was placed on the head and shoulders and worn like a second suit. The feel of the flesh made the old, cold bones remember warmth for the first time in a half-century. 

As for Clyde Marston, his fat flesh was worthless. Nothing but oil and grease. His body was dumped unceremoniously in a nearby reservoir. The reservoir was part of the water treatment process. The workers responsible for it would not find Clyde’s bloated and purple corpse for twelve hours. By that point, his body had released several gases and liquids into what would become the town’s drinking water. Unknowing townspeople drank corpse water for a week. One of the imbibers was Loretta, who sipped a cool glass of her son while watching a rerun of Fraser

Johannes Hess, dressed in the skin of his great-grandson, shambled past the plant’s gates and out into the world for the first time since death. 

His head swam with big plans for the town and its people.

— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. You can purchase his new poetry collection, “Nocturnes”, here