The Curious Life of James Taylor
by Christopher Allan Death
A dark figure splashed through knee-high water and stumbled over large jagged rocks, fleeing further and further into the perilous mountain terrain. He tripped several times, falling face first into the subzero mountain river. Each time he stood up cursing and shivering just to fall once more. But he pressed forward. Not even hell itself could stop his fanatical excursion into the untamed Colorado wilderness.
Two cold silver eyes glared through the darkness ahead, and the man stopped quickly. For a moment he was worried that he had unwittingly stumbled upon a hungry brown bear searching for food, but then he realized it was only a jackrabbit. The wild hare sensed his presence and quickly disappeared into the thorny undergrowth.
The man watched his furry little friend recede into the darkness and quietly reflected upon his own position. Like the jackrabbit, he too was running for his life. Except this time the predator was not a normal human being. No. The thing that pursued him was something else entirely: something born from the very depth of Hades.
Clambering out of the icy cold water, the man knelt behind a thick pine tree and let the silence descend. Almost immediately he could hear splashes echo across the river behind him. An unnatural odor intermingled with the scent of fresh pine trees and newborn sapling, slithering through the deep nightfall and violating his nostrils. He knew the odor before it ever reached his olfactory lobe.
It was the scent of charred flesh.
The man released a terrified breath and scurried further into the forest. He could feel serrated undergrowth and fallen branches bite into his bare legs as he tore through the darkness, thundering past ancient oak trees and colliding into fallen logs. Every breath he took felt like scissors cutting erratic patterns across his lungs, leaving him breathless and sore. But he knew that he couldn't turn around. If he stopped, that thing would catch up to him.
He couldn't let that happen.
Suddenly the bushes behind him crackled. The man stopped dead in his tracks and became still as a deer caught in the headlights. He could hear something approaching through the trees, moving deftly through the tall foliage. He knew that the creature was close because he could smell the sickening odor and hear the twigs snap underfoot.
He turned around and saw a huge oddly shaped figure loping through the twilight. It might have been a giant orangutan, if not for the abnormally large head and thick human-like legs.
The man released a silent scream and dove into the bushes. He had been running from that thing for almost his entire life. Only now the creature had become more ferocious and bloodthirsty than ever before. That was what finally drove him into the harsh Rocky Mountain wilderness.
Ever since he was a baby, his parents knew that James Taylor was a very special child. But it wasn't until his fifteenth birthday that they realized exactly how special.
Unlike most American children born every 0.5 seconds, James developed a rare mental disease called Psychotic Schizophrenia. Since there was no known cure for his condition, his parents raised him just like any other red-blooded American boy. They brought him to the park and enrolled him in various daycare centers to encourage social interaction.
Unfortunately James never really found his niche in high school. Due to his quiet nature and erratic schizophrenia attacks, he never made many friends. The friends he did make soon abandoned him after they discovered his psychological stigma.
When James left for Boston to pursue his interest in culinary arts, his parents stood behind him one hundred percent. They thought that his time away from home would open up new horizons for the young bachelor, but they had no idea what lay ahead.
At first James loved his culinary school. He made several friends who shared his affinity for cooking, and even found himself a steady girlfriend. Except that was before his first major psychological breakdown. And that was before the monster climbed into his mind.
The scent of burning and putrefied flesh was stronger now. James could almost taste the vile stench on his tongue and feel it slither down his throat. It made him sick. He felt warm stomach bile lurch into his mouth.
Streams of silvery moonlight filtered down from the dark canopy and fell across the hideous monster. He could see every disturbing feature clearly beneath the huge waxing moon. The creature was like a disease, infecting every cell and nerve ending inside James' body.
"Just leave me alone!" he shouted.
The creature seemed to crack an awful grin and lumbered forward once more. Its stiff, knotted toes crushed branches and insects alike beneath its monstrous weight.
James unleashed a breathless shriek and skittered into the thick foliage. He tried to tell himself that the creature was just a figment of his imagination, but something inside him refused to submit.
No matter what happens, just keep running.
Rocks and twigs snapped underfoot as he thundered through the labyrinth of trees. Every once in awhile he would slop to catch his breath and position himself among the rugged Colorado wilderness. He hoped that the creature would become lost among the countless oaks and dark ravines, but it always remained just a few steps behind him.
Suddenly James noticed a light up ahead. He scrambled toward the light with catlike dexterity and only stopped when he was too tired to go further. He could see a hunting lodge through the thick foliage, perched atop a small grassy knoll. Hunters had probably constructed the little cottage for shelter during the cold winter months.
James felt a thrill of excitement course through his veins. If there was electricity in the little lodge, that meant there might be people too. And people could help defend him from the creature!
James still remembered the first time he came face-to-face with his nightmare. The date was January 6, shortly after Christmas break. James came home from College to spend the holidays with his family when disaster struck. Someone snuck into the house during the night and killed his beloved parents. The emotional trauma that followed sent James into a complete psychological breakdown.
Shortly after he returned to college, the nightmares began. James woke up in a cold sweat almost every night with visions of some horrible monster burned into his brain. Even in his dreams he could smell the odor of decay and feel its putrefied presence. It was almost like his subconscious mind was caught in a horrible schizophrenic attack, replaying the nightmare over and over every night.
About three days later the beast emerged from his dreams. He saw it when he went for a walk around the lake. He saw it when he drove to the supermarket, and he saw it standing in the shadows when he went to sleep each night. He saw it everywhere. That was why he decided to run away.
The bushes behind James shuttered. Before he could react, a giant arm reached through the darkness and slammed into his chest. He grunted and felt himself vault into the air. When he landed, sharp barbs pricked into his delicate white flesh. But that was the least of his problems.
James leapt to his feet just as the creature lumbered into view. A deep, throaty cackle followed him into the darkness. But he kept running. He ran until his lungs burned like fire and then he ran further. He kept running until the little hunting lodge burst into view and he could feel the door beneath his slick, sweaty palms.
"Is anyone there?" he gasped, slamming his fists repeatedly on the door post. "Please let me in! Can anyone hear me?"
James turned around and peered into the murky foliage. The forest had become completely quiet. He could no longer hear the chirping of crickets or smell the putrid burning odor. So he knew something was wrong.
"Can anybody hear me?"
The silence remained undisturbed.
James swallowed hard and tried the doorknob. The door swung back easily, revealing a warm interior with several modern appliances. He mentally noted the simmering coffeepot and conventional oven, preheated to a balmy 500 degrees. That meant he was not alone in the rugged Colorado wilderness.
James heard the door open behind him. He turned around, hoping to find several robust hunters wearing camouflage slickers inside the door. Instead he found a massive dark figure blocking the exit. He screamed and stumbled against the far wall.
"What, what do you want from me?"
The creature grinned and maneuvered its enormous bulk through the small doorway. Bits of forest debris and dust scattered across the wooden floor, following the creature into the cabin.
"Please, stay away from me!" James choked, fighting back fear that bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. He could see the creature more clearly now, beneath the bright industrial neon lights. It had grown even more hideous than he remembered.
"Why are you following me? Why?"
The creature twisted its red frosting lips into a fractured smile. Its black chocolate eyes glimmered beneath a mop of greasy licorice hair.
"Revenge!" it muttered in broken English.
James felt his entire body twitch with fear. His face turned deathly white. Some sort of malicious intelligence reflected in its cold ebony eyes. Right away he knew that he wouldn't survive this encounter.
"Why did you kill your parents, James?"
"I didn't kill my parents! They were killed when a burglar broke into their house at night!"
"You did kill your parents, James. And you baked their bodies into gingerbread cookies so they wouldn't be found."
"That's a lie! I would never kill my parents."
The giant gingerbread monster took one menacing step forward. Crumbs flaked off its knotted toes and scattered across the floor. A flicker of anger crossed the creature's face.
"Don't deny your guilt, James Taylor. I was there that night when you snuck into their house and gutted them mercilessly. I was there when you ground their bones into dust and baked their remains into gingerbread cookies! Don't deny your guilt anymore."
James slumped helplessly to the floor. He was crying freely. Big salty tears spilled down his cheeks and landed softly on his trembling hands. He knew that the gingerbread man was telling the truth. He could remember what happened that night on Christmas Day when his parents lay asleep in their beds. Everything returned to him in a flood of guilt.
"Who are you?" he sniffled.
"I am your conscience, James. I was watching that night when they told you to withdraw from the culinary school because they were worried about your mental health. When you refused, they said they would stop paying your tuition. Then you killed them. You killed them in cold blood." The gingerbread man flexed his stubby fingers. "Now I'm going to kill you."
James fell to his knees and begged for mercy. He promised that he would return to the city and take responsibility for his crime. But it was too late. The gingerbread man closed his fingers around James' throat and hoisted him into the air.
A few days later the little cabin door opened once again. Except this time three burly hunters stepped into the cozy interior. They set their rifles by the door and started peeling off their camouflage slickers.
The first man stopped just inside the door, twitching his thick handlebar mustache.
"Dammit Mitch, you forgot to shut down the generator! Now thanks to your damn carelessness, we're low on power."
"Sorry John," the man called Mitch replied meekly. "With all the excitement I just forgot."
"What's that smell?" the third man ventured.
"Seems like something's cooking," Mitch replied.
John whiffed the air.
"Smells more like burning to me."
John patted across the hardwood floor. The oven was turned up to BOIL, and he could see something large smashed inside. The other hunters stood back cautiously. He pulled back the oven door and a massive cloud of rancid black smoke billowed into the room.
"What in God's name?"
John choked back smoke and stumbled away from the oven. Inside lay a charred body, bony fingers stretched feebly toward the hunters. Every hair on his body had been scorched off, and the place where his eyes should have been were hollow black sockets. His skin was brown and leathery.
"And what's this all over the floor?" Mitch whined.
John turned around and saw the trail of crumbs leading to the oven. It looked like little pieces of gingerbread cookie.