It was the summer of 2019 when I saw my hometown with new eyes for the first time. It was the first of the two trips home I took every year – once in the summer and once at Christmas. I’d been in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade. It was fun for the first couple years but for a while it had seemed like my two trips home were the only thing I ever looked forward to.
Home was Birmingham, Alabama. The Magic City. I was cruising up Highway 31 North in my rental when I caught the view of the rolling hills that stood between me and downtown. I had never seen so much green in my life.
Before I moved away I must have made that same drive a thousand times but it was only after living around the sickly, jaundiced trees of Southern California that I could truly behold the pure and honest majesty of my own home.
Longleaf pine, elm, sycamore, pecan, white oak, and black walnut. It seemed like those hills held every shade of green the human eye could register. And in the distance, the statue of Vulcan – the largest cast iron statue in the world – rose above it all like a spire.
I missed the heat. I missed the rain. I missed the sound of crickets and cicadas. I decided then that it was time to come home.
It didn’t take long to prepare. Like most people out in L.A. I went there to do one thing and wound up doing everything but.
The one thing? Stunt man.
The everything but? You name it. Catering, house painting, background work, PA work, courier work, and by the end I’m making custom stationary. I shipped home what I could, packed the rest, and flew home on October 1st.
Everything went wrong.
The car I’d saved up for got sold out from under me. The job I had lined up stalled me for a month and eventually fell through. Covid kicked off. I was stranded with no car, no job, and bunking with my old man at thirty-three years old. So much for the honeymoon phase.
It wasn’t all bad. I liked having a few beers with the old man at night. I liked seeing all my old pals, Chinese bat AIDS be damned. I just hated how little I had to say to anyone. I hated how little I had to show for myself. I hated that I was speeding toward middle age after a lifetime of lateral moves. I knew I couldn’t just sit around so I signed on with this home repair company I heard about from a friend of a friend. It was contract work. You had to use your own vehicle and tools but you got to make your own schedule and the money was no joke.
It was slow going at first. Taking any little piss-ant job I could get, scooting around in my old man’s Corolla, picking up hand-tools as I went along. I’m dogshit at carpentry so I started scooping up all the painting and pressure washing jobs. That kind of thing is like meditation to me – slow, quiet, monotonous. My old man had a beat up pressure washer in the garage that I used at first. But after a few months I had developed a niche for myself. I was working maybe twenty-five hours a week and making serious money. I was outside in the elements a lot of the time but that didn’t bother me. I liked the heat. The sun on my skin. I listened to Oldies on my phone. I packed a lunch. I killed wasps and yellow jackets. I did not kill spiders.
I got a good deal on an old Ford Bronco. When the Covid restrictions started letting up I got my own place and joined a gym. I was finally feeling like I was getting some kind of life together when I met Tarol.
“It’s like Carol with a T,” she told me, standing in her front yard.
“I’m Marty,” I said.
She needed her house pressure washed and repainted. A big money job. Her place was built on Red Mountain, alone at the dead end of her street. Red Mountain was more of a ridge than an actual mountain, but it had been a colossal mining concern for iron and steel for about a hundred years. Now it was one big-ass park in the middle of the city with houses all along the edges.
When I pulled up to Tarol’s house I could see it was old even before I saw the Jefferson County Historical Commission plaque mounted by the front door. It was a little bungalow with some Queen Anne style to it.
“It’s supposed to be white,” she said with a little laugh. The whole house was covered in red dust. Hematite residue. A staple of the mountain. Her place was absolutely caked with it. She showed me around the house while her dog followed us from inside, barking at us from the windows when we stopped to talk.
“That’s Odie. He’s a sweetie but he runs away whenever I let him out.”
“Do you want to keep the color?” I asked her.
“I know I shouldn’t but it looks so pretty when all the magnolias bloom.”
She wasn’t wrong. And as far as pretty went the woman herself looked as good as magnolias smelled. She was maybe forty but looked better than most women a decade younger than her. She had great skin, a wild mop of wavy blonde hair, and a knockout body. It was something about the way she carried herself that hinted at her maturity. She had a languid, sensual poise. I had a hard time taking my eyes off of her. And her smile. A killer smile.
“Think you’re up to it?” she asked after the tour of the outside. It was a small house but the dust was practically cooked on and the paint was so chipped I was going to have to scrape and sand the whole house. A big job for just one guy.
“I’m up to it,” I said. “If you can put up with me around here for that long.”
“I think I’ll survive.” She winked at me. God damn, I was hooked.
The pressure wash took a whole afternoon. It was hot but there was enough shade from all the magnolia and dogwood that I didn’t burn. And there were no wasp nests to clear out. But the red dust clung to the house like an old sin. I had to use a special solvent to get it off in some places. It was strong, vile stuff and flammable as all hell. I only used it in tough cases like this one.
Odie kept me company, watching me through the windows. The poor boy was desperate to get outside. He looked like he had some border collie in him. You can’t keep a dog like that cooped up inside. No wonder he was a flight risk.
It was dusk when I finished. As I was packing up my gear Tarol came out and brought me a glass of sweet tea.
“You looked like you needed it.”
“Thank you,” I said. I nodded to the house. “But that’s the easy part. Scraping the old paint is where it gets tough.”
“At least it’s white again,” she said. That, it was. The magnolia blooms were closing for the evening but I could see what she meant by how the house looked surrounded by them. The ground all around the place was soaked. The water ran down the slope of the front yard in little streams. In the fading light it looked like rivers of blood.
Stripping the paint took four long days. One for each side of the house. The heat was thick like molasses. Alabama summers can be oppressive but at least they’re consistent. It’s not like the desert where the temperature drops at night. It’s a constant sweltering slog but at least you get used to it. I parked my Bronco in the shade and took my lunch breaks there. Tarol would come out to see me then. Always dressed for the heat. Always showing off those long legs of hers. On the third day she said, “Marty, it’s too hot out here. Come on inside. I’ll make you an Arnold Palmer.” I followed her and got dizzy at the view along the way.
Odie rushed me the moment I got inside, his tail wagging like crazy. I bent over and pet his long, dark fur. I sweet-talked him in this stupid dog voice I have that just came out like a reflex.
“He loves you,” Tarol said with surprise.
“Nah, he’s just a good boy.”
“No, I’ve never seen him like that. He’s always skittish around men.”
Odie stuck close to me on the way to the kitchen. I got an eyeful of the décor and it was a showcase of top quality antiques. Everything was handcrafted, sturdy, and meticulously chosen. It was the sort of furnishings I always wanted but could never afford.
“This place looks great.”
“Thank you,” she said. She opened the freezer and filled a glass with ice. “Most of it belonged to my grandmother.”
“Have you lived here long?”
“All my life. My family’s been on the mountain a long time. But it’s just me now.” She had a pitcher of tea and a pitcher of lemonade. She poured them in respectively and stirred the glass with a spoon. The clinking of the ice on the glass sounded like the deluge of a slot machine jackpot. “Do you live alone?”
“I do,” I said.
“Do you like it?”
“I love it,” I grinned. And it was true. I had always enjoyed my solitude even as a little boy. “What about you?”
“For the most part,” she said, but I could tell she was putting on a good face. There was a lonely cast to her eyes. I couldn’t figure how a woman as gorgeous and vivacious as her wound up all alone in a little house on a dead end street, though. High standards, maybe.
She gave me a tour of the rest of the place. It was small but it was a beautiful home. I paused in the living room at her movie collection. It was almost all Classics – Hitchcock, Lean, Huston, Ford.
“These are great,” I said.
“You like old movies?”
“I love them.”
“You’re young to have such good taste.”
“I’m not that young.”
“Oh please,” she said. “You’re in your prime.”
The rest of the job was like that. Friendly little interruptions from Tarol gave things a slowly simmering sexual tension. For me, anyway. I found myself thinking about her when I wasn’t at work. Thinking about the way her hips moved when she walked. They had real action to them. I thought about her sun-kissed legs and shoulders and wondered what they tasted like.
I did the usual internet stalk but she was a ghost. No social media presence that I could find. Day by day I deliberated whether or not I would make a move when the job was done.
When that day came the house looked good as new. Some of my best work. Tarol was beaming. She was so thrilled she didn’t even flinch at the bill, which was massive. That made me a little hesitant. I already figured she had more money than me, that was usually a given. But forking over that much dough without a second glance meant she must have been loaded.
We lingered at the door. The way she shined with that smile, the way she smelled, I almost said to hell with it and kissed her right there. But instead I told her goodbye and drove home.
I didn’t know what to do. She was a big money client and if I misread this thing and it got back to my boss I could get shit-canned from the best job I ever had. I spent two days fretting about it, and swiping through dating apps full of women and girls that didn’t measure up at all.
I had broad-brain for Tarol and I had it bad. I called her up on the third day.
“Marty!” She certainly sounded happy to hear from me. We did a little hello and how are you doing and I threw the pitch.
“Want to grab a drink some time?”
“I’d love that.”
“Friday night? I could pick you up at eight.”
“I could do that. Or better yet, you could come over and we could watch a movie together.”
Now that was a suggestion. I’d made it several times before myself and it always went the same way. Tarol, you minx.
“Sure,” I said, playing it cool. “Want me to bring anything?”
“I like gin.”
Friday night came and I brought Bombay Sapphire for her and a sixer of Modelo for me. I was in my first date outfit – light colored jeans, dark button-down, and bull-boxers. Tarol answered the door in cut-off shorts and a sleeveless cotton blouse.
“You’re overdressed,” she said.
“After last week I thought I’d clean up for you.”
“I’m not complaining,” she said. “It’s a good look.”
She made herself a drink and I opened a Modelo. The cold beer was merciful in the balmy heat. We went into the living room. She invited me over to the couch.
“Tell me about yourself,” she said. So I did.
I was a Birmingham native. I played baseball all through school.
“I thought you looked like a ballplayer,” she said.
She looked me over. “Wide shoulders, narrow waste, big arms.”
“Look at you, checking out the help,” I teased. She grinned and bit her lower lip.
“It’s your pretty blue eyes that got me,” she said. “Besides, don’t tell me you never stole a glance at the lady of the house,” she nudged me with her foot.
“More than one.” We held each other’s gaze and took a drink.
“Did you have a nickname?” she asked. “Ballplayers always have nicknames.”
“Because I let this girl I was sweet on talk me into doing one school play my freshman year and those fuckers never let me live it down.”
It went on like that for about an hour. She was flirty and fun. Nothing like the drags I’d been going out with since moving back. Every one of them just a passenger in an evening that I had to drive every step of the way. Tarol had moxie. She was a real woman.
We decided on To Catch a Thief. About twenty minutes in Tarol draped her legs over my lap. I ran my hand up her thigh. She shuddered and gasped. It was still cold from the beer bottle but it warmed up quick. Those stems of hers were smooth, soft, and firm. I ran my hand from her ankle all the way up the golden length to her meaty thigh right at the edge of her little shorts and squeezed. She sat up and threw one of those legs over my lap, straddling me. We kissed. Her long blonde hair cascaded around my face as I bit and sucked at her soft lips, running my hands up her back and breathing in her scent. She smelled like a spring garden.
She rocked her hips back and forth and then in slow circles in my lap. She gave a low growl when she felt how hard I was. She took off her blouse and I undid her bra. Her tits were full, firm, and damn near perfect. I got a handful. I got a mouthful. She slid off of me and onto her knees. She undid my pants and grabbed them and my underwear in both hands and yanked them down. She grabbed onto me for dear life and took me in her mouth.
I’d always been lukewarm about blowjobs. They were better than nothing but they were best as a warm-up to the real thing. Tarol made me rethink that prejudice. What sent me over the edge was just how much she seemed like she needed it. Needed it more than I did.
“Oh fuck,” I said. “I’m close.”
“Give it to me,” she demanded. I did what she said and she took it all on her chest.
I went to the bathroom while she went to her bedroom to clean up. When she came back to the living room she had put her blouse back on. She looked at me with this strange, intent look in her eyes and gave me the weirdest and lewdest damn compliment any woman ever gave me.
“You have perfect cum.”
I laughed. What the hell do you say to something like that? She came back to the couch and curled up against me for the rest of the movie. When it was over I kissed her goodnight and went home. That night I had a strange dream about rivers of blood flowing all through Red Mountain.
I went back a week later.
“I have to tell you something,” she said. “I don’t want to freak you out but I need to get this off my chest before things go any further with us.”
“What is it?”
“I can’t have children.” She told me how she got into a bad accident when she was young. Internal damage. “I just wanted you to know now in case this goes anywhere. Not that it has to.”
We talked over drinks again. She was also a Birmingham native. Her old man died before she was born. No siblings. Just her and her mom in the family home. She had one of those fake, work from home jobs that every woman has now. She’d never been married. Her mom died years ago.
I tried to ask her more but she had a way of turning the conversation back to me.
“Stunt man? Did you go to school for that?”
“No, I went to school for History. I tried teaching for a little while but I hated it.” The truth was I didn’t really want to go to college but my dad had always wanted it for me and I wasn’t a good enough ballplayer for Minor League. I’d always remembered doing that play in high school. We did a stage combat workshop with a guy who was an ex-stuntman. It seemed like a cool gig. I had some friends out in L.A. trying to make movies so I figured what the hell.
“It didn’t work out?” she asked.
“It’s hard to find that kind of work when you’re six-two and most actors are five-eight,” I said. “And it’s like everything else out there. You have to pay dues to all these guilds and unions who don’t do dick to help you get work. I had a few gigs but nothing to write home about.”
We put on Dial M for Murder but started fooling around almost immediately. I ran my hands all over her. I bit her neck and chest. She was in a little sundress with nothing on underneath. She yanked my pants down again only this time she climbed back on, wrapping her legs around me like she was afraid I’d try to get away.
We were clenched together and rocking back and forth, growling and nipping at each other like it was a fight. When her mouth wasn’t otherwise occupied she talked one hell of a blue streak. Just the dirtiest kind of talk you ever heard. I loved it but it sped me to the finish. Her legs were wobbly and slick with sweat when it was all over. We finished the movie. I would have stayed if she had asked but she didn’t. She kissed me goodnight and had to hold onto Odie to keep him from running out after me. I had another bad dream that night. I was down in one of the Red Mountain mines. Something reached out of the shadows and pulled me down into the darkness.
I offered to take Tarol out to dinner. Hiking. Bowling. Whatever she wanted. But she never wanted to go out. Strange, but it’s not like I was going to argue with her. We had one hell of a good pattern. Every Friday night I’d come over for a few drinks, a movie, and the best sex I’d had since I was in college. Each time was better than the one before it.
Charade. We fucked on the living room floor.
The Big Sleep. I bent her over the back of the chaise lounge.
Vertigo. I took her right away in the kitchen, up against the counter, and then again on the sofa.
I looked forward to it all week. The more I got, the more I wanted. The more I needed. I did my best to occupy myself in the meantime. I saw friends. I went to the batting cages. I lifted weights. I pressure washed and painted and took on the elements that came with the territory. I killed wasps and yellow jackets. I did not kill spiders.
“Let’s go to the bedroom,” I said. She was splayed out on the couch in front of me with her shirt open, rubbing my crotch.
“No,” she said. “It’s a mess.”
“I don’t care.”
“Mmm-mm,” she shook her head. “You fuck me right here. Right now.”
It was only after we were finished – my chest drenched in sweat and my back covered in scratches – that it dawned on me that we’d never done it in her bed. I’d never even seen her bedroom.
I made a mental note of it the following weeks. We fucked all over that house. Even in the shower and once on the back porch. But never once in the bedroom. Every time I came over the bedroom door was always shut. One night when I got up to go to go take a bathroom I decided to go down the hall to see if I could sneak a peek. Odie followed me to the hallway but stopped short just past the bathroom. I looked back at him. I took a few more steps but he wouldn’t move. I put my hand on the knob and he whined. What the hell?
I tried to turn it but it was locked. It was only then I noticed the knob was fitted for a key. I found myself in a tricky position. This was odd and something about it triggered alarm bells in the back of my mind. This whole thing had been too good to be true from the jump. But for the first time in my adult life things were finally going my way. Was it worth screwing that up just to dig into something that was probably no more than a lonely woman’s harmless idiosyncrasy?
Still, I kept picking up on weird details. For one thing, it was too quiet around her house. No birds, no crickets, frogs, or cicadas. I lived downtown and even I still had that kind of noise. But out here there was nothing.
She had no pictures of her family, or anyone else. She didn’t even have pictures of herself.
And Odie. The way he stopped in the hallway that night got under my skin. I would watch him when I came by. He never went toward the bedroom. He even actively avoided it. And as much as he followed me around everywhere and tried to run out the door when I would leave he never willfully went toward Tarol. He gave her a wide berth. I’d never seen a dog treat its master like that.
And yet none of these things curbed my appetite for her. I was constantly turned on. I hadn’t been so horny since I was a teenager. Or so virile. After long years of sexual droughts, personal failure, and alcohol abuse I’d noticed a significant drop-off in my performance over time. But with Tarol I was back in the big leagues and batting a thousand. I was like a new man. I couldn’t understand it, but frankly, I didn’t give a shit. Whatever this thing was between us, I knew it couldn’t last. So I was resolved to get as much out of it as I could.
We kept our routine. I came over every Friday night. I brought gin when she ran out. We put on an old movie and jumped each other’s bones. We never went to her bedroom. I never spent the night. I went to work. I saw friends. I went to the batting cages. I killed wasps and yellow jackets. I did not kill spiders. And I kept having nightmares. Vivid, macabre dreams about the mountain.
It lasted until October.
She called me Thursday night.
“Don’t come over tomorrow,” she said. “I’m sick.”
“I’m sorry, baby. Can I bring you anything?”
“No, that’s okay. You’re sweet to offer, though.”
“Let me know if you change your mind.”
“I will. And I’ll make it up to you next week.” But I called her the next week and she didn’t answer. I left messages but got no reply. Friday came and I hadn’t heard from her so I went by her place. The doors were locked. I knocked and called out but she didn’t answer. Odie barked and whined at me from the windows. I peaked in where I could but saw no sign of Tarol. No sign of anything else, either. I paced around for a while, not sure what to do. Finally I drove home.
Don’t get excited, I thought. Don’t jump to conclusions. She was probably sleeping off her illness.
A few more days went by and I still didn’t hear from her. I started to worry. Was she all right? Was she ghosting me? Finally I left her one last message – “If I don’t hear from you I’m going to break in to make sure you’re all right.”
Thursday night she called. She sounded like she was crying or laughing or maybe both.
“Marty, it’s me,” she gasped. “I need you to come over.”
“It’s a miracle, Marty. I’m pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” I repeated like a dunce.
“It’s a miracle,” she said. That time she definitely sounded like she was in pain.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said through gritted teeth. “But I need you, baby. Come over right now.”
“I’m coming,” I said. “Just hold on.” I grabbed my keys and ran out the door.
The drive over was a frantic storm in my head. How could she be pregnant? Did she lie about being barren? Was it really a miracle? Was it mine? Was I ready to be a father?
None of that mattered. Why did she sound like she was in pain? I had to make sure she was okay. Everything else would come after.
It was fully dark when I got to her place. I vaulted up the steps and found the door was unlocked. Odie barked and yelped at my arrival.
“I’m in the bedroom,” she called from down the hall. The door was open. Muted, yellow light spilled onto the wall from somewhere inside. I went toward the sound of her voice but Odie stopped short behind me. He started barking like crazy. Some horrible feeling came over me but I could not stop myself from running to the door. I pushed it open and stepped inside.
The dank smell like a basement or a crypt jumped up my nose and reached down my throat and caused a coughing fit. There was thick, white residue strung all over the room and woven around all the decrepit furniture.
There were other things woven into it, too. Dried-out shapes the size of full grown men. I couldn’t stop coughing. Odie wouldn’t stop barking. I heard Tarol crying on the other side of the bed. She hobbled out from behind it and into view.
“It’s a miracle,” she cried. She was naked. Those legs of hers, the ones that drove me so crazy, were splayed outward and bent at the knees. Impossibly long. Her knees were over her head so that her legs formed a giant, moving M.
Down where her legs met was a giant tear that reached all the way to where her bellybutton had been. A wet, bulbous sac the size of a hefty bag spilled out of her and dragged behind her. There were things moving inside of it.
“I just knew there was something special about you,” she said. “I knew you were perfect.” Something moved under the skin where her ribs were. That soft flesh tore as four long, black, quadruple-jointed limbs ripped out of her. Her perfect breasts burst with an explosion of blood and adipose tissue.
The flesh of her legs ripped at the unnatural strain and two more giant legs sloughed out of each one.
“Now it doesn’t have to end with me,” she cried. “We’ve always been here on the mountain.” The sac she was dragging squirmed and shuddered. “Oh they’re coming now.” The sac ripped open and hundreds of tangerine-sized abominations spilled out and scurried in all directions. Malformed little homo-arachnids skittered over Tarol’s nightmare body.
“Oh Marty, they’ve got your eyes,” she cried. “My babies have their daddy’s beautiful blue eyes.” She beamed at me with tears streaming down her still-human face. “I love y-,” her words were cut off when her babies climbed into her mouth and filled her throat. They pulled off the flesh of her human face and revealed black eyes and mandibles just before they feasted on them as well.
Horror and disgust pin-balled through my brain, crashing into the barrier of my sanity like machine-gun bullets but somehow it held. By the time I got to my Bronco the horror and disgust had been snuffed out by something much bigger and meaner.
It was just my fucking luck that the sexiest woman who’d ever taken in interest in me turned out to be a goddamn spider demon from Hell.
I opened up the back of the truck and got out the jug of my special solvent. I stormed back into the house and saw that some of the little bastards were scurrying into the hallway. I stomped as many as I could as I went back to the bedroom. I found what was left of Tarol in a shrinking, swarming heap. I doused it in the solvent. The little monsters scattered in pain in panic while their tiny bodies corroded. But that wasn’t the half of it.
Once I had the room good and soaked I lit a match, tossed it, and watched the whole nightmare go up in flames.
Odie was waiting for me at the Bronco. I let him in the cab and we drove away together.
That was the night I saw my hometown with new eyes for the second time. It was an old place with fantastic and terrifying secrets. I’d come home looking for a fresh start and a new horizon. I found one, all right. That constant, throbbing need that I felt for Tarol gave way to something else. Now I wonder what else is lurking in the hidden depths of this place.
Odie lives with me now. I don’t have nightmares anymore. I go to mass at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and I do their repairs for free. I see my friends. I have beers with my old man every other Saturday. I have dinner with my mother every other Sunday. I play pick-up softball. I pressure wash and paint. I don’t chase tail and I kill every fucking spider I see.
— Detective Wolfman is a hardboiled loner who’s loved by the Moon, the Noirmaxx King with that Rock N Roll thing, and a Man for All Seasons. A previous contributor to APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL and Man’s World, he is also the host of ON THE BEAT with Detective Wolfman and cohost of DRUNK ON MOVIES.