Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth or the Dangers of Online Dating by Levi Dunn

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She puts down the magazine when she flips to the advertisement of the Kentucky derby, the jockey standing taut in may fly sunlight. She lets the local image fall off the bedside and crash with a dry crumpling sound like soft leaves being ripped under autumn fingers.

Lodgings were small but spacious due to the lack of proper furnishings. Only a bed and two aluminum chairs burdened the apartment over Mellgrove avenue, and Caty had little she could do to provide the posh trappings left behind in Taylorsville.

Harsh shouting breaks in from the muffled street and a car alarm cries. Rolling onto her side she draws the single white sheet over herself. Cold and empty this would serve a better refuge than the crowded mansion she left.

After Edgar, she couldn’t bare to subside in such squalor. She came to Taylorsville in the December of twenty-thirteen after meeting a man on the internet. A decision whose danger only dawned directly after she departed the air liner that brought her from northern Kentucky.

A strange town, immensely rural. An idyllic nothingness carved away in southwestern Utah. She had been provided a driver, an older man with a receding peak of snowy hair and a white sign pressed against his black suit that read Catherinne Suhport. She winced when she saw the thin paper with her full name in thick black sharpie, and she winced secretly as she followed him.

And she rode in silence while the driver barked away at how happy Edgar was to finally meet her. But, he kept using the word prize – He prized her parcel (an interesting description for facebook messages), he prized her being able to come and see him – and when she looked in the rearview mirror she swore that it showed a different reflection than what was over her shoulder.

It was dark when they arrived at the stone walls that surrounded the mysterious bachelor’s residence. Caty waited as the driver, who it had become apparent was some sort of servant to her no-longer-online boyfriend’s estate took several minutes edging along the perimeter of the property.It must’ve been a huge piece of land. Caty had smiled at this.

Dinner was the first time she ever looked on Edgar in the flesh, and she was left two hours to prepare in one of several antiquated bedrooms. Her driver informed her that Edgar had been careless and needed to go get the food and prepare the dinner. She brightened at the thought that restaurants existed in this realm, and that civilization while concealed wasn’t distant.

Two hours slowly crept by and all she had to occupy her was her phone, which after a quarter hour of mindlessness lost its last sliver of failing reception. She withdrew one of her books for class, she had to lie to her professors and say her mother was in the hospital and she might be on her way out. That wasn’t untrue, and she did have a note that a good friend had forged. She began reading the assigned story, and began to come to know the life of W.B Seabrook before following him towards The Magic Island when the tolling happened.

A note of terrible percussion screamed like an ashen cathedral clattering to the cold empty fields. Night hung around it like a shadowy noise, surrounding it in edges of infinite disorientation. It sounded sacred, but not as belonging to a Roman Catholic storm. Something fouler beseeched this note and its satanic player must’ve been a sightless titan whose blows left him barely breathing; however, minutes led his lungs to fill and for the weight of his sledge to siege the divine and send the sibilant shriek into the untamed domains surrounding the huge home.

A feeling of emptiness came over her, causing her books to take on a reddish glare, the room began to emit some monstrous musk. It reminds her of a clinical odor and she presses beneath the azure, antediluvian comforter to hide from it.

Again that awful bell tolls and it is followed by distant horse hooves clopping loudly against cobblestone cymbals. Sharply the thudding rose until it sounded as if the charger was at her door. Clud Clud Clud it paced the halls with a terrible trot and when she risked peering from her entrapped comfort to the pane previewing the outside, she saw only the starry sky casting doubtful rays of starlight onto the empty fields.

Thud Thud Thud the hooves distorted into a rapping at the door. Caty looked back to the entrance and saw it shake with soft strikes, someone had been knocking at her door. She rose and went to open it, but right before she reached it she was greeted with the image of the frost haired driver. “Ma’am, is everything alright?” He asked, looking at her confused.

“Is dinner ready?”

“Half hour, the cooks are preparing it now.” He smiled.

“And Edgar?”

“He is here, yes?” He turned away from her as if to vanish into the hallway but she maintained sight with a quick step.

“And I can see him?” She felt excited nervousness welling up inside of her.

“Of course.”

And the room was distant, several miles behind her as the next blinking of her eyes sent her and he spiraling down the twisting stairs to the basement. Her face was wet, and her shirt was torn. She felt full as if she had eaten a feast, she had been so hungry. So wanting. She bet she could’ve actually eaten a horse.

The cylindrical stairwell was old and musty, covered in dank mold that peppered the sides of the thin decent. She missed her hoodie, wherever it had gone, and fought the sensation that strobed through her body. As if the spreading bumbling inside of her chest and heavy limbs was a signal that things were not right, and where was Edgar? He had been…somewhere?

And what had occurred at that lavish table, where ten sets of devilish dining ware were placed in meticulous order? Had she and the driver sat in eternal awkwardness, waiting for the phantom of her host?

“What did you say the meat was made of?” It was hard to break through the dreamy dust that clung to the air, but her meager voice managed.

“Quail.” He led her out into a cold circular chamber where the ceiling had long given way to the weight of time and now let the crepuscular mingle with the stellar and sent from the supernal were reflections of stars and funerary suns.

“Do you understand why you must leave?” He asked her turning about in the light of the crypt sunbeams.

And suddenly she was ushered out past the rosewood doorways and unto the huge dining hall and there he was, Edgar.

His sharp jaw and thin smile were suddenly less important as she saw his height. He darted across the hall on a bundle of thin snaking yellow appendages like roots or snakes, slithering statically against the hard floor. His tendrils end at the waist where a surprisingly human body remained, clothed in expensive tailored black, covered in custom nightmares.

His hand was soft and held a thin film of liquid that mingled with her panicked palms and the sweat she already bled. He led her to a chair next to the head, and she saw that there were others joining them for supper. The driver, and seven people all clad in masks – glaring demons, gawking birds of prey, angels whose opulence had been stained with tenebrous illumination – and more things that were mutilated by the sudden streaming of formless floodlights from beyond the great bay windows which painted the entire dining hall wrong. Loud engines of trucks form a chorus of industry and she can see other lights, flickering torchlight and a chanting beings.

“Ia, Ia.” Reverberated hollowly across the room that she felt was occupied only in the barest sense.

She took her seat and the driver was across from her, staring at the black tablecloth and the gilt of the unlit candelabra reflected hideously across the absent meal. She tried to look at Edgar but it seemed she could only manage the periphery of his tall visage, like staring at a lanky sun that tread on its bent and beaten rays. “Edgar,” she managed, trying to find the familiarity of language or conversation or something other than the muffled chanting and growling engines “You have a lovely home.”

Then she could not avoid looking at him as the snaking legs sprang and propelled his body in front of her, suspending him several feet over the table’s dark sea of cloth. His body was twisted so their faces peered at one another, and it was the same man from the hundred images she had parsed, but what he hid beneath the border of those walls of pixels, what sick mortar had their conversations been built on if not of snaking deception? His face was a hollow face, and she could feel the empty sentience waiting to be filled with some strange meal, and how appropriate that while his green eyes met hers the large rosewood doors flung open and the sound of clattering metal feet scraping the ground and the percussion of unveiled platters marked the meals start.

How appropriate that their eyes were engrossed in a terrible grapple and Caty couldn’t feel if she was gaining ground, or just wandering into claimed territory.

The crowd outside had grown, or maybe they all started using bullhorns at once because it sounded filtered – the choir, it sounded like walls of fuzz disfigured the song – and she was reminded of an old boyfriend who listened to death metal, and how “it’s supposed to sound like someone’s about to die, that’s the point Cat.” She winced as Edgar slid back into his chair and lifted a glass of pinkish liquid. And there was one at every place, hers included. And everyone else was drinking, and wouldn’t it be rude if she declined?

The taste is repulsive, faux-sweet and medicinal. It tastes familiar, and on her second drink she still can’t place it, but on her third she realized that this much liquid, enough to replenish many drained glasses, must have made Pepto-Bismol a lump sum of money. She continued drinking, and she never was sure why. The main meal was a cooked lump of yellowy meat, and when she cut into it, she felt it scream out. She carved three of the little lumps, thrice did the sensations of the tortured course through her and thrice did she consume the dismembered meal. The second course was a salad, she guessed, and she watched Edgar as he ate it. The huge leaves looked like lips and it was only as his long golden tendrils wrestled the pair of leaves apart did she see the real meal. Inside of the venus-fly-trap-esq plant were a dozen or so small men, all nude, all at a point where mid-life crisis becomes a possible conclusion, and none taller than ten or so inches.

She watched as Edgar’s soft mouth opened exposing rows on rows of black rotten teeth and bit into the men, who with great ecstasy moaned in his grasp. His teeth, thick with filth, split the skin and suckled the savory ichor of the infantile men.

“Don’t you love bankers!” A demon screamed as she popped one’s tiny head and let the gore splash across her, luxuriating in the sudden stillness the dangling doll gave. One plant had one woman, whose two male companions seemingly dominated, as she was in strips of the plants fleshy humanlike tongue they had peeled away to bind her, but as she soon became a spectacle the whole of the masquerade had to view she seemed to perk up slightly. And then her masked mistress gripped her by the waist and began slowly to be torn apart, and she shrieked such a shrill cry and Caty was reminded of her mother when her stomach lining first gave way from years of half-gallon vodka medicine. When she found her three days after leaving the hospital with her friend Svedka snuggling her in the vomit drenched bed, and she had shit and there was blood on the sheets and she remembered the black mold she showered in for a long time, unknowing that other kids at other houses didn’t have to have that, and hoping that other kids in other houses had it much worse when she wasn’t around.

Cause it never looked bad when you were outside.

But she is inside Edgar’s house and the gross medicine she drank, the terrified food she has consumed, all of it begins to grow in her stomach, amalgamating into some blobby bastion that protects her from her thoughts with a sickly veil of distortion and dreamy pressure, like deep sea and outer space caught somewhere in her warm face.

Her first man she decapitated with the knife.

The second she ripped in half like a titan tearing an average bodied herculese in twain.

The third she flayed, and full of men let scream while the third course was brought out.

Roaring beyond the window is congregated noise. Neighing cuts into the world barely breaking through the surreal dinner and the obscured bright chorus. “Ia, Ia!”

Midway through the great black soup the flayed man went silent, shock dragging him into the depths. When she soaked his glimmering red body in the lurid bowl like a piece of bread, the whole of the hall turned to her with admiration and desire. Some claimed she would make such a lovely mare, others claimed that they would wait for her in the bedchambers provided with mallets, chains and other tools of bondage and killing to steal away her spark as to relight their own fires.

A loud bumble of footsteps crowded the closed doors and she felt the CludCludClud of bare hooved horse steps. Thud Thud Thud, rapping on the door and the muddled chanting from outside and those knocking much closer at the dining door merged together and the foreground and the background are one and the same. The doors open, the flood gates of a torrential river swung open and in rushed the raging current of sound.

Four men, all large bellied and matured like aged manure, led a large charger calmly into the dining room. As it grew closer she noticed two things about both the horse and its handlers.

The four men were pale and the pallid white powdered faces were small flash bangs, intolerably bright and full of the panic prior to an attack, splendid and concussive, obtrusive to the innocent vulgarity of perception.

And the horse was also white, but it’s coat was not the coat of other steeds. It did not have the fur she was accustomed to but instead bore fleshy skin, as if replaced with stretched leather. And the white skin had ridges and lines that seemed to glare at her as if a hundred faces comprised the morgue mare, and she could feel from the absence sitting in its deep gorgeous sockets, it had been dead for days.

The partygoers pushed their chairs back in joyous merriment and Edgar rose to his fully incalculable height. Waving with two to the rust colored arms – legs? – he motioned the men and the mare to him. All at once the table shook when the front legs of the half ton equestrian clambered onto the table. As another five hundred pounds, with great effort from the albino jockeys, landed on the table Caty felt a certain weightlessness like she had been drawn out of her body and looked down at the dinner from the infinite height of impenetrable ether.

And she watched as she rose with an unnatural will and mounted the table. Facing the long white fleshy façade of life she eyed the eyeless. Looked deep into the maggot filled holes and approached it. She ran her hand across its thin skin and she felt, even in the ceiling-sky, a hand reach out and press against hers. The skin lifted and the fingers made four separate ovular raisings. Her hand glided down the back of the long neck until she felt her fingers cut by flowered thorns and the bridge of a nose sewn seamless into the stretch of icy epidermis.

Her mouth fits snugly around its muzzle and she bit down, chunks of rubbery flesh stringing away as she pulled back. Swallowing she feels a movement inside of herself, and peering down she watched as the desiccated face of the horse began to stream rivers of filth and strange insects.

Then she gripped the sides of her mouth and a loud snapping screamed through the silence, only the chanting familiar and distant remaining to cloud the air with audibility. And she unhinged her jaw and slid the horses remaining muzzle of white flesh into her mouth. And she continued, first sliding herself onto its neck, and as her mouth grew exponentially bigger onto the shoulders, past the stomach until the whole of the horse was consumed in Caty. And then she closed her mouth and with great choking strain swallowed the steed. The horse had vanished and she stumbled backwards, her spirit returned to the weight of reality. It was hard to understand why she was up on the table, and why everyone screamed and shouted and made jovial the evening.

Edgar’s long tentacles circumvented her and presented a fired clay vase to wash down the equestrian weight that clung to her stomach. To wash away Marc, the skinned breadstick she named posthumously. The black vase held a sweet liquid, and once she sipped from it she was unable to cease, and she saw in the reflection of the driver’s eyes that the urn she imbed upon bore the image of a city being laid to siege by a huge reddish orange kraken. And she does not wait to see how the others react, drinking deeply as if she was always meant to drink from this morgue cup. And as she swallowed the liquid oblivion she felt her mind begin to choke and sputter and soon she realized she was laying in the table’s center, and all the masquerade gathered around her, the chanting from outside a wall of noise, harsh and distant, and at the head of those lingering over head was Edgar, and she could feel the coppery tentacles swarming all over her nude body and she feels some of them tighten around her below her belly button, and the others an inch or so north of the umbilical impression.

And she too is torn in twain, and she felt her body explode with drugged anguish, the entirety of her being is drenched in thick soupy waves of heat and cold and something in between but much different. She feels the hand of some dead god, brilliant and rotten, reach out and touch the temple of her head, where she used to rub when she had a migraine – or when things at home were to loud, to in focus, and she thought expanding her blood vessles or whatever would make that pain vanish in a puff of motion as well – but neither of them faded quickly. She sees his eyes, they are white and milky with the reflections of some unlit citadel. She has met wise men but this is not one she can tell. A wise god would not die, he would not let himself under the ruinous breath of time, and as she realized this the dead god is washed away and there he is, his coppery yellow tentacles rubbing the side of her head in soft monotonous circles, like two snakes lost infinitly on her skull. And his eyes are a verdant forest, but the verdancy is stained with dark brown-black of blood, seeping in from the sepia sky onto the ursine figures that linger therein, hungry and moaning deeply under an ululating moon.

But she couldn’t have been torn in half. There must have been something in her meal. She remembered the servant, leading her and helping her escape, the blasted ceiling of the cellar where the strangest moonlight lingered like a lonely saint. She remembered the walk, hours or days, before she made it back to Louisville. But that was impossible, Utah was so far away.

But she had never been good at measuring things by distance, so perhaps she was wrong. But laying in bed, she could feel two circles of nonexistent pressure wrapping around her, one some inches bellow her belly button, and the other somewhere above it. And no longer did she accept messages from men with green eyes, or men who don’t show her pictures of their legs.

She recalls Marc and smiles, something glinting reddish in the sleepy sunbeams. The city was loud, but if felt good to be surrounded.


20160907_204503Dunn currently lives in Indiana on the bizarre border of Kentucky and Lovecraftian horror. Attending IU Southeast, he studies Writing, Literature, and Philosophy. He had been writing stories to supplement his childhood Dungeons and Dragons’ games when he first developed his love for storytelling.

He also plays guitar and sings in multiple bands.

“Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth” won first place in the IU Southeast Writing Competition for Short Fiction.

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