Daniel gently nudged the front door open, treading as softly as he could. A grin had spread from ear to ear. He had arrived home a moment early, but couldn’t decide if he wanted to knock or sneak inside. He’d chosen the latter, partially because he loved his jokes, but part of him just wanted to spite her for not picking him up at the airport. The fact that his boyish expression was set against a burly masculine figure in army fatigues nearly made him look comical.
He wondered where Alyssa was. She’d always loved gardening, but she announced her pregnancy the day before he left for his last tour. It was the only time he’d seriously considered dereliction of duty.
But, life being what it is, he trudged off into the fields of war. He endured another year of explosions that shook the foundation of the Earth. Daniel watched scores of paper-mache men torn apart.
His family and his humor were all that had kept him sane. Now, nearly manic with the relief of being home, with steps lighter than those of Hermes, he rounded the corner into his kitchen.
Alyssa was at the sink, scrubbing at something. He could hear her whispering to herself. “Oh no, that simply won’t do. No, not at all. Got to get the dirt off, not working, no.”
This wasn’t like her. He had a growing heat settling in the depths of his stomach. He could smell something strange in the air, but what?
“Alyssa?” Daniel called gently, rising to stand. She spun, wide-eyed for an instant, before a blissful smile crept across her face. “Oh, my Danny! You’re home early!” She continued scrubbing.
“Er… no, I’m not…” His intuition was digging into the back of his skull like a pickax. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Why, the twenty-second of February, of course.”
It was June 6th.
“Alyssa, are you ok?” He shuffled closer. He could just barely see into the sink. He took another step and tried not to wretch as his stomach snapped in on itself.
There was a dead child in the sink. Its mottled brown and gray flesh hung from a loose collection of bones. The empty sockets that once held eyes seemed to bore into Daniel.
“I’m afraid little Thomas is taking his bath. Have to get the bugs out. Dirty dirty. Full of bugs.”
“Alyssa, what… what the hell? This… our son…?”
She hoisted the corpse from the sink; he heard a squelching sound as the head lolled from side to side. Vertebra ground against one another as she held it snug against her chest, swaddling the epitome of desecration.
“That will have to do for now. Say hi to daddy!” She shoved the child in his direction.
Reflexively, he caught it, though he immediately wished that he had not. He could feel the rotting muscles sliding across bone like a mass of snakes. Shards of bone jutted out from festering wounds. His thumb mashed into the child’s collapsing side, penetrating its chest cavity. Something that might have once been a lung enveloped his penetrating digit.
Crying out in disgust and fear, Daniel dropped the body. It landed with a splat as its soft head collapsed against the hard floor.
“Alyssa, what in God’s name-” He was cut short by her gorgon stare. Her gaze lingered on him for a long time. For too long. He was suddenly all too aware of the twitching of her eyes, of the burning mania that had fried her mental circuitry.
“You… monster,” she hissed. She dropped to her knees and grabbed a knife from the nearby counter. She raised it high above her head; he was reminded of the way occultists acted just before making a sacrifice.
“What are you doing?” Daniel cried out; she rammed the knife into her forearm, piercing straight through. She screamed, twisting it, back and forth like a makeshift drill.
“Dirty… filthy… got to… get…” She jerked her arm back, removing the knife. It clattered away behind her. Bulges began appearing all over her body, making their way towards the hole in her arm. She didn’t bleed; one by one, thick, white maggots plopped down onto the floor.
Daniel became violently sick as the creatures began picking at the child’s rotting skin, devouring the putrid substance. Alyssa quickly began to look more and more emaciated. As more maggots left her, her skin grew more pale and thin. Her body began to whither before his eyes.
“Filthy… get the bugs out… clean up… no… can’t have this mess…” she groaned, her sandpaper voice barely able to carry to him. It wasn’t long before the insects turned on her, first eating her superficial layers, then driving back inside for the main course.
Daniel’s world spun and his legs gave out. He had just enough awareness to see the corner of the dining room table zooming towards him before he blacked out.
When he came to, he was distinctly aware that he was surrounded by blood. Too much blood. Enough so that Phlegethon would overflow its dark banks.
And he was aware of something beginning to pick at him. Then a few somethings. Then a few dozen… then they were digging in.