Mario Piumetti

The August First Selected Writer is Mario Piumetti

You can email Mario at: heavenshaker00@gmail.com

Mario Piumetti

by Mario Piumetti

Sunset Boulevard was broken. The boy watched his footing against the uneven asphalt going up and down like great stones jutting out of the sand at the beach. Thick clouds blocked out the sun so that there was still light in the air but nothing cast shadows. 

He hadn’t seen his parents in hours. He was almost all alone on the road, save for the things that scurried behind him. The boy began to run, glancing over his shoulder to see the creatures, small like poppy seeds, rolling over the street.

The road continued on to Dodger Stadium. Something large and ponderous loomed. He couldn’t tell whether the rumbling was the beast’s stomach or its throat. The boy saw a small store up to the right with wide windows. He didn’t know if there were a particular prayer for safety from monsters, but he asked for luck from his guardian angel.

The poppy seeds drew nearer and began chattering now. The boy looked at the storefront again. He passed through a crack in the window. The hem of his jacket caught on a shard and held him back. He pulled back on it. His parents always told him to be careful around glass; it was a fragile and delicate thing. The boy thought of brave things like his mom used to tell him whenever she wrapped string around one of his loose teeth. He sucked in his breath, pulled back hard, and the shard of glass snapped out of the metal frame.

The storefront was smaller than his bedroom. A counter sat to one side with a cash register and a terrarium of dead, neglected turtles. A tall shelf stood in the center of the room and more lined the walls coming to a stop at a door leading into the back. The door was large and heavy, but he had the strength to push it open. Three strange animals from among the poppy seeds squealed nearby. They looked like chickens except that their wings didn’t end in single digits but rather sharp talons. They were naked, the skins bumpy like the feathers had been plucked, and their eyes were on turrets like chameleon. Their beaks had teeth.

The boy’s father mentioned that once to him. “Did you know that, like, one in a few million chickens hatch with teeth? Some sort of leftovers from when they were dinosaurs.”

But these weren’t chickens, nor were they dinosaurs. They crawled on all fours like dogs. One scurried in and up to the top of a shelf, its beak chattered and both eyes fixed on the boy. He pressed back against the door. 

Another entered, looked up at the dead turtles on the counter, and then snarled when the hinges creaked. Spines on its back, like those of a porcupine, flared. 

The boy pushed open the door hard and squeezed through. The creatures weren’t tall enough to reach for the doorknob, and were too weak to push it open. But they were noisome and the room he retreated into was cavernous enough that their sounds echoed off the walls.

It was a dark room, huge like the Batcave but without all the high-tech wonders. He could only sense the ceiling in the poor light. Large wooden tables took up the main space of the room. Each one had a company of cold metal chairs around them.

The area towards the back was as black as the ceiling. He crept towards the darkness, and held his hands up when he got to the edge of it so he could feel what was ahead of him. There was one other wooden table to the right. Dust fluttered in the air like marine drift heading down to the ocean floor.

The room had shelter, but it lacked food. The boy was hungry and thirsty from his long run. There was a display case with a door on each side of the wall, providing a window to the front, so he looked through the glass. Now that the chase came to an end, the creatures were bored and maybe even gone. He bent down to a corner, pressed his ear against the case, and heard no scratches on the floor or rustling behind the shelves.

The boy saw a Walgreens across the street. He barely made out the sign over the parking lot through the trees, many of which had been torn out from the sidewalk. It wasn’t the first choice he’d make to look for food. The boy usually went there with his mother when she had to get medicine when he was sick. But he knew they had snacks at Walgreens. 

He had no money, but thought someone—anyone—might pity him enough to buy him a treat. At that point, the boy didn’t really care what he ate. His stomach didn’t feel too good. It ached and shivered like it was crying.

He pulled back the door in a way to double as a shield. Nothing attacked. The store was empty and the monsters were gone. The street looked clear. He ran across the intersection and around the outer wall of the parking lot to the front of Walgreens. The store was a cave with the only light coming in from the outside. It was dark enough that almost everything looked like a film of ash covered it.

His fingers were cold. He rubbed them against each other and blew into his palms, and soon felt a little life returning to them. The first aisles were dedicated to cosmetics and magazines, and he saw the edge of the greeting card rack near the back of the store. There were knickknacks as well; coffee mugs, the necessities of a summer barbeque, and a gravy boat shaped like a rabbit so the gravy came out through the mouth. The box had printing that read, “The most delicious vomit EVER!”

There was no one in the store to help him. His foot brushed against something on the floor, and that’s when he saw the hand that led up the arm of a woman who could have passed for an older sister if he had one. Her hair framed her face just below the jaw line; her eyes half open and unresponsive.

The boy saw another body beyond her, this one of an older man, a short fellow wearing a Walgreens uniform. He probably tried helping with her selections. 

The boy backed away. The last time he’d seen a dead body was at his grandmother’s funeral a few years earlier.  His gaze passed over the store, and he saw it was much more than just the man and woman by the door. There were dozens of dead bodies spread out all over the place. His eyes needed only to adjust to the darkness to see them. Some looked like they’d simply dropped dead where they stood; others showed signs of attack, and a few were maimed after death by scavengers.

God, he was thirsty; the smell of death made his mouth dry. He poked his head aisle by aisle trying his best to ignore the corpses. There had to be something left, even just half a bottle of Gatorade. He saw the refrigerator section halfway into the store. Most of the shelves were empty, but a few small bottles of water, each no larger than the palm of his hand, were scattered throughout the whole stretch. The boy braved the chill and slipped off his jacket so that he could collect as many bottles as he could for the trip back to his hideaway.

He didn’t hear the shuffling at first. When he did, he thought it was the sound of him moving things around, but it grew noisome and unmistakable. He stopped to get a better earful. 

Something moved among the aisles, no doubt about it. It was something that sounded like its feet were heavy and it had to drag itself along rather than take normal steps. Maybe it was a person who could help.

“Hello?” he asked. The shuffling stopped, and he called out again a little louder. The shuffling resumed with more urgency, and the boy now heard a breath to go with it. He grabbed the wrapped up bottles and followed the sound while making sure he was well away from any one aisle. The thought of the monster chickens with teeth crept back into his mind, but this didn’t quite sound the same.

His got to the aisle with the cold medication and cough syrup. A tall, thin figure stood at the other end wrapped in a coat. The Tall Man rubbed his thumb against his temple like he was deep in thought.

The boy didn’t want to interrupt the Tall Man’s thinking, but asked away. “Can you help me, sir?”

The Tall Man lowered his hand, and the boy saw incredibly long fingers. The man’s head tilted up, and the boy could see that the skin below the nose was peeled away. Teeth were all the boy could see, row after row of them like seats in a stadium.

“Ssssssssirrrrrr,” he whispered.

The boy felt his heart jerk in his chest and he ran for the doors. The shelves rattled behind him.  He glanced behind him just once to see the Tall Man on all fours, skittering over the aisle like an insect. The man burst out of the Walgreens to give chase. 

A bottle slipped out of the boy’s jacket and bounced off the pavement. It no longer seemed to matter to him as much as the pain shooting up his leg. His muscles were sore from the first chase into the store. The Tall Man, however, was probably rested, as if he spent all day in Walgreens conserving its energy. 

The boy climbed through the window of his hideaway storefront with one hand on the frame and the other holding the bottles like they were babies. The Tall Man thudded against the frame. Just his head passed through the small crevice. 

The impact forced the boy off the ledge and he hit the floor hard. The bottles rolled in every direction. The Tall Man grabbed onto the boy’s ankle as he clawed for the back door. He stood on one hand, and then broke through the window shards with the other two. The boy thrashed around as much as possible to keep the monster from taking a bite out of him. Finally one of the boy’s kicks landed in the man’s face.

The Tall Man coughed up a gob of blood that squirted out, semisolid like gelatin, and splattered on the floor. He lost his grip, and the boy slid away from underneath.  Teeth ground on each other, and then he went limp.

The boy saw a long, writhing blur; a distortion smooth and invisible that it had all the clarity of polished glass and the dynamics of water. Two long, clear tendrils swam into the store from the outside. Each tendril had a pair of invisible eyelids that opened to expose glowing blue eyes, and jaws that opened wide.

The boy slipped backwards along his hands and feet. His retreat wasn’t enough to keep up with the pace of the serpents. The one in the middle flicked the air with a bloodied tongue. The serpent to the left raised its head highest to get a better view of the place, and its brother to the right licked the counter in curiosity. The other two started to become aware of the attention of the skulking one. They turned towards the boy. Their eyes focused and sharpened, as his fear grew more pronounced. He saw a pupil form in the otherwise clear eye of the bloody serpent.

All the serpent heads focused on him now. He rolled over and jumped to his feet with just enough time to grab a single bottle of his precious water.

The serpents darted. Two of them knocked the center shelf over and cracked it against the wall. The boy threw open the back door, passed into the room, and heard a terrible hiss when he got to the other side. He pivoted in a snap.

The serpents were mere inches from his face. They didn’t creep any closer, but hovered in place. Behind them, the boy saw their host crouch down in front of the store to give the serpents plenty of slack, but they still didn’t advance. When they seemed aware that the passage was blocked to them, they withdrew from the store.

The boy was wedged between the door and the jamb, and he looked up to see a large portion of the storefront crumbling down as the serpents bashed against it. A gust of air came in from the outside. The serpents dove down to get to the boy, but the barrier that held them back was still in place, and no amount of the creature’s rage would break through it.

The boy stood up and raced to the very back of the building, where he found an exit to a patio and a parking lot. The pavement splintered along a single line like a spine bursting through skin. 

Dirt sprayed into the air. A deep hiss accompanied it, a sound more sinister than the many-headed snake with blue eyes. This monster was much different. Its leathery skin was pale and white, and when is snarled, it elongated its face in a way that was more canine than reptilian.  Each side of its face had a dozen solid black eyes. 

In the rubble, the boy hoped he was too small to be noticed. The pale creature slithered up on top of the building. The boy stayed in the doorway as chunks of the roof collapsed around him.

Dust and dirt leaped off the pale monster as the serpents with their blue eyes wrapped around it as it struck back and dug its teeth in deep. The boy pressed his hands against the wall to steady himself for as long as he could until the collapsing building made it too dangerous and he jumped beneath the nearest table. He held tightly onto the legs and closed his eyes. 

The boy was surprised.  For the first time since he saw the monsters, he didn’t feel as afraid anymore. He didn’t want to die, but it also didn’t seem to matter as much. He felt like a door opened on a cold night, a warm glow of fire from within a cabin reaching out to greet him. The boy thought he could hear his parents call him home.

The comfort distracted him enough that he ignored the fight between the pale monster and the blue-eyed snakes. Suddenly there was silence.

The only thing that hooked his attention back into the moment was the silence. The shaking stopped. He opened his eyes and looked up at the ruined ceiling. One of the lights swayed, but the others were limp. The still ground made him feel like he were floating. His hands pressed against the wall so that his muscles locked and he had to will his arms down.

As he walked forwards and crossed the room, the only thing he heard was a deep, raspy pulse, and his breath synced with it. He got to the door and pushed it aside to enter the storefront. The remains of the Tall Man were scattered everywhere, the bulk of the body crushed by the fight. 

Outside, a column of flesh lay on its side, rising and falling in tune with the pulse. The boy saw the head of the pale monster on the road. Thick blood spurted out from wounds running the length of its body, and its long, pink tongue stretched out from its mouth. 

A green light shined low on the western horizon like a setting star that the boy hadn’t seen before. The multi-headed serpent slithered towards it. From this distance, the boy saw a couple of blue eyes like Christmas lights on a faraway house. The boy saw the small, chicken-like creatures across the road, and tucked away behind the bulk of the multi-headed serpent. The green light summoned the chickens as well.

The pale creature soon died on the road. When he felt confident enough, the boy walked around the corpse until he was almost on the other side of the street. There were no birds in the sky or stray dogs or cats on the ground sifting through the litter. There was just him, alone, in the middle of the broken pavement, looking for his parents.

Mario Piumetti was born and raised in Los Angeles. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles. His writing has been featured online at Arts Collide and CLU's award-winning literary magazine Morning Glory.

An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. Mario is also a staff writer for the dark culture magazine Carpe Nocturne. You can find out more at his blog: My Corner of the Catacombs.