Eternal

Nat Tyler sobbed over the grave of Elena Hainsley as he had every night for the nine months since her passing. Though he was 30 years her elder, his devotion to her was undying. From the moment he’d seen her across the hospital hallway, he dedicated every waking breath to trying to ease her pain and suffering, often stealing from the dispensary in order to give her the treatment her family was too poor to afford.

Nat had been employed as a nursing assistant at the institution for only a short time before Elena was admitted there for a rare form of cancer. Though he had no formal medical training, he was highly intelligent, and often snickered at the med students when they tried to make a diagnosis only to fail miserably. He watched how the treatments were given and was soon diverting medication from one patient to another, delivering his own concoction of meds as he fudged the charts so no one would suspect any wrongdoing.

Once Elena had been admitted, all of his focus and attention was on her. He knew the times her family members would visit, and he knew her complete treatment schedule. Though there was only small-talk between Nat and Elena for now, he was certain they would be together once she got better. And she would get better, he knew she would because he would see to it.

Elena began to make progress and the doctors seemed baffled because nothing they’d tried previously had slowed the cancer that was ravaging her body. Nat wasn’t surprised though, he had adjusted her chemotherapy and knew he was the reason for her ‘miraculous’ progress. With Elena’s new prognosis, he knew they would soon be together, so he began to converse more and more with her and her family.

After a couple weeks of improvement though, things took a turn for the worse. Elena inexplicably slipped into a coma; the doctors had no answers. Nat was at a loss, he stayed up night after night researching, scouring medical journals for a cause and cure to Elena’s sudden change in condition.

On October 25th, at 11:43 p.m., Elena succumbed to her battle and passed while Nat was away from the hospital. He’d gone into work late that evening with what he thought would be the answer only to find her room empty. Her family was with the case worker. Nat stood outside in the hallway and eavesdropped, sobbing silently along with the others. As he heard her family readying to leave, he turned and walked away.

That afternoon, he went into his supervisor’s office and quit. He knew he would be unable to return to the place where Elena had died. Though he remained at a distance, he followed Elena’s parents and brother around town as they made the funeral arrangements.

When the day of the funeral came, Nat could hardly bring himself to get out of bed, but he did. Though Elena hardly knew him, he knew she would want him there; they were soulmates whether she’d realized it or not.

The turnout for the funeral was small, maybe fifteen people huddled under umbrellas around the freshly dug grave. Nat remained several yards away from the family. Though they had met at the hospital, they wouldn’t understand the connection he had to Elena or his presence at the solemn occasion.

Once the service was over and the small gathering had left, Nat remained behind until a cemetery worker told him that he’d need to leave, but could come back in the morning. He acted like he was leaving and drove around the block, soon to return a short time later. He jumped the back wall and returned to Elena’s grave. A full moon rose in the sky as Nat lay on the moist ground, naked and sobbing. Exhausted, he fell asleep only to wake to a strange, yet alluring sound. He glanced at his watch as chills ran down his spine – 11:43 p.m. – the exact time Elena had died. A voice unlike any he’d ever heard was singing the most beautiful song. He’d never heard the song or the voice before, but he knew it was Elena. For the first time since her death, Nat felt at peace. The song eventually subsided and Nat left feeling more peaceful than he had in days. He returned every night after to greet the voice that also returned at precisely 11:43 p.m.,  for the next nine months.

One particularly warm night the following July, there was no voice. Nat glanced at his watch, 12:17 p.m., yet there was no serenade from Elena. He rested his ear to the earth atop her grave but still nothing; he became agitated.

“Elena! Please, my dear. Sing to me.”

Silence.

He beat on the ground with his fists until they bled but the sweet sound of her voice never came. Sorrow turned to confusion as unfamiliar words floated through the humid night air.

“Take me home, my dear. Please free me from this grave.”

Nat cried uncontrollably as the voice repeated the words over and over. Nat gathered himself and left in a rush only to return an hour later.

Jumping over the wall this time proved to be slightly more difficult than normal. First, he lifted the wagon and dropped it onto the other side before tossing the shovel and tarps over, then joined his collected items. Once in the cemetery again, Nat placed the shovel and tarps into the wagon and made his way toward Elena’s grave.

***

Nat gently rested Elena’s body in the wagon and placed a kiss on her lips before he wrapped the rest of the tarp over her decaying form. After he returned the grave site to nearly the exact condition in which he’d found it, Nat carted Elena’s withered remains through the still night air; all the while the wheels of the wagon squished into the moist earth.

With modern medicine failing to save Elena’s life, Nat took it upon himself to ensure that she would remain with him forever. He brought Elena to his home and carried her over the threshold as he’d imagined so many times.

“Mr. and Mrs. Nat Tyler,” he announced as he carried her into the living room of his modest beach cottage.

He brought Elena to his workshop at the rear of the house and rested her on a bed in the center of the room. He then spent every day working to preserve his beautiful Elena. Her body had decayed to a point where her bones no longer held together at the joints, so he created a framework with coat hangers and wire to keep them in place. Her eyes were gone, those he replaced with large marbles that resembled her natural eye color. Her skin had sloughed away, to replenish her precious flesh, he used silk cloth and a patchwork of plaster where necessary. What remained of her liquefied organs he removed and replaced with rags and large bundles of fabric to give her body the shapely form she once had. During her stay in the hospital, he’d secretly collected large samples of her hair, now he used it to construct a wig that he placed atop her skull. He adorned her with jewelry, and changed her clothes daily.

The pungent scent of decay was a constant reminder of long ago death, but Nat camouflaged it with bottles of expensive perfume. He even used formaldehyde to slow the process as much as he could. Each night, Nat lay next to his beautiful Elena, and whispered promises he intended to keep.

The relationship lasted for years until one night, while lying naked in bed next to his bride, he woke unable to breathe. He bolted upright and grabbed for his throat, trying to relieve the pressure but an invisible hand gripped tighter, further constricting his windpipe. Nat flailed and fell to the floor, his eyes wild and confused, he searched the room for any hint as to what was happening but to no avail. Bright white spots burst into his vision as the room began to close in around him and an unfamiliar noxious stench filled the air.

An ominous silhouette appeared and stood over Nat as he struggled to remain conscious. He squinted trying to identify the towering form in front of him, the lack of oxygen made it impossible to think and he surrendered to the darkness, but not before the towering figure spoke in a booming, malevolent tone.

“You stole what was not yours to take. She is tainted now; she will remain yours forever as you so greedily desired.”

***

Police responded to reports of a foul smell coming from the residence of Nat Tyler. When they arrived, they found Nat, naked and decayed, his body entwined on the floor with the macabre corpse of Elena Hainsley. Though the scene was gruesome, authorities were intrigued and stunned to find Elena’s corpse in such a well-preserved state. Her body was examined by authorities before being returned to an unmarked grave where she was finally allowed to rest in peace.

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.

 

Shambler Club

Strangely, I felt no pain. Stars exploded before my eyes, and all went black.

***

I should’ve known better. I’d heard the stories, but dismissed them as fancy. Urban legend. I’d taken the garbage out, then for a walk with the dog. Together we enjoyed the quiet of a birthing night. Muffin sniffed around a pole while I admired the pink sky. I never got many of those moments; the ones of solitude, that was. My home was a frantic hub, three teenage girls and an angry wife. I escaped as often as I could, even if it meant something as simple as watching Muffin piss atop a neighbor’s lawn.

The lab reared her head, nose attacking the air, hackles raised. She backed her ass against me, a deep growl caught in her throat. I scanned the lawns expecting to see another animal, a raccoon, maybe; worst still, a skunk. I saw nothing. Only a white car humming down the street. “Easy girl,” I cooed, her snout swinging in confusion.

That’s all I remembered.

***

I woke in the black. Shirtless. Legs folded under me. Shoeless, too. Dog leash still in hand. My body jostled about. I threw my hands out, struck metal. A trunk. Fuck, it was all true then.

My back ached. I thought of all the good work performed by my chiropractor now gone to shit. And my head, well that ached like a motherfucker as well; my fingers traced the egg protruding under my hair. I inhaled the stale air of my confinement, felt the sweat dance along my balls.

I waited. I thought. I thought hard. The stories…one had to abide by certain rules. I fumbled with Muffin’s leash, passing it hand to hand. It finally came to me. Rule one. You don’t talk about Shambler Club. Rule two. You most definitely don’t talk about Shambler Club.

How many rules were there?

The jostling stopped. All grew still. My senses screamed. But I kept remembering.

Rule three. If someone gets bit, you’re next in line.

Only two bodies to a fight. One fight at a time.

I should’ve been thinking of my kids, but doing so would only dull any edge I might hope to have. I realized I needed to be ready. I needed to fight.

No shirts, no shoes.

I heard a key click in the lock.

The trunk lid rose.

Fights go as long as they need. If this is your first night at Shambler Club, you have to fight. Because it will be your last if you don’t.

Artificial light blinded me. A crowd’s roar filled my ears.

I pulled myself up. Slowly at first, eyes gradually adjusting to the spotlights set above my head. I willed the soreness from my body. No, not really; it didn’t work. Wincing, I flipped a leg out from the bowel of the trunk. Then another. I saw a cracked sticker upon a faded bumper: HONK IF YOU’RE HAPPY

Fuckers.

I saw them, four deep. Maybe five. Man. Woman. Even child. They cheered wildly; money exchanged hands. I wondered how much was wagered in my favor. I wondered how many even cared. Sand filled the gaps between my toes; it sure as hell felt better than the bottom of the trunk.

“Suburbanite dad, are you ready?”

The announcement echoed from the speakers set up around the pit. And it was a pit, filled with a loose sand that claimed the tops of my feet; pitted railroad ties stacked three high, serving as some rudimentary border. Barbed wire, strung from aluminum poles driven every ten feet or so into the ground accompanied them. Warehouse, arena or otherwise, the arrangement was impressive. No one was getting into the pit. More importantly, no one was getting out.

“I said, suburbanite dad, are you ready?”

Unsure, I raised my hand. Outside the pit, the savages went wild. The cheers, the heckling, resonated inside my head making that egg feel watermelon sized. No doubt about it now, that urban legend was all too real. I thought of a dark place, any I might have. Recollections of bedtime lullabies for my daughters weren’t helping me now. I needed to get pissed off: thoughts of my brother-in-law who disrupted every goddamn thing I ever had planned; my wife, who always left the recycling bin full for me to dump on stormy nights; a life filled with frustration…

Bring it on.

At the far end of the pit sat a trailer; its aluminum door began to rise. I couldn’t see it emerge at first, hidden as it was in the gloom. But by inches it revealed itself; stained jeans hanging from an emaciated waist, grey-pasty fingers clacking along its sides. The Shambler saw me. Correct that – smelled me, the way dear Muffin used to inhale the fragrance of the hydrants in town. Locked onto whatever scent I gave off (the shit smell of fear, maybe?), the Shambler lurched from the trailer, gaining uncanny speed across the makeshift sand bed.

The crowd rocked with delirium. I’m sure they sensed an easy kill. My first impulse? I ran away, looking every bit like Costello in those old flicks I used to watch with dad. But this was my ass on the line, and I didn’t give a flying fuck exactly how manly I appeared.

It didn’t think strategy; it didn’t craft a plan. The Shambler knew only hunger, and it saw meat dead ahead. Oddly, I found myself laughing as I ran for my life. If I’d believed the Shambler Club a thing of legend, then surely Shamblers themselves were the rainbows ringing my hairy ass. Pallid faced, milky eyed, it came after me.

I was a dad; hell, the very suburbanite dad I was introduced as. I knew nothing of the rules of the pit, nothing about fighting the undead. My feet churned clumsily through the sand. I stumbled, fell. Gashed my palm on barbed wire as I reached out going down. The crowd was right there, in my face, screaming bloody terror in support of their wagers, separated only by the barb and a healthy fear of the Shambler.

The Shambler, well, it was right in my face, stalking me down with uncanny speed for something that, scientifically, shouldn’t have been able to move; shouldn’t have even existed. It straddled me, so cold, feeling so rubbery. From its mouth wafted the rank scent of flesh worked over by the sun. Its teeth, those gnashing, crooked teeth, worried me most.

It lunged for my neck, but I’d been hiding my face behind my hands and somehow pushed its chin away. There I lay, in the pit, in the sand, my entire existence narrowed down to a hellish moment in some undisclosed location; undisclosed to me, at least.  My mind went back to rules one and two: you never, ever talk about Shambler Club.

Because you can’t.

The Shambler’s jaws snapped: open, shut, open, shut, but still I shoved its chin aside. Sideways, it glared at me, those dead pupils seeing something of this realm I simply could not. The crowd chanted. My mind began to drift. I thought of Brianna, my oldest. Interested boys were already lining up outside my door; she kept her iPhone concealed from me all the time.

My strength ebbed; the jaws drew closer.

Madison, my middle girl. She aspired to be a baker. Her cupcakes had packed unwanted pounds around my midsection.

Snap, snap, those yellowed teeth.

Then there was Bailey. My little Bailey. She’d always be my baby. All my girls would be, of course, but her especially. She still wanted my goodnight kiss upon her forehead at night, still hugged me like I was Santa Claus every day before leaving the house for work.

In long strands, the saliva spilled from the Shambler’s lips, mere inches from taking my life.

No.

I thought of the endless grief my wife gave me when buying a book from Amazon while her purses formed an endless caravan outside our closet. I thought of the many times she extinguished the bedroom light without ever giving me a second glance, let alone saying goodnight.

The Shambler’s chin halted. Began moving away.

I thought of her many criticisms, the way she mocked me for my lack of grace under pressure.

Slowly, its head tilted upward.

Yes, I needed to bring myself to a dark place.

My hand, it continued to bleed from the wound; rivulets crisscrossed my forearm, my elbow. But I wouldn’t stop pushing back against the Shambler, would not stop –

I still held tight to Muffin’s leash.

With my free hand, I reached out, tossing the leash round the Shambler’s neck. It swung up, over and around. I shifted my bodyweight beneath the Shambler; the sand served as my ally. I clutched the dangling leash and, hands now crossed under its chin, flipped atop the undead thing. Summoning all the strength I could muster from my middle-aged core, I reared back on the leash.

I pulled and didn’t stop. It might’ve been due in part to the rage I felt over mowing the lawn time after time without appreciation; maybe it was the simple desire to keep giving my Bailey those goodnight kisses. Either way, I pulled on that fucking leash, screamed above the crowd as the nylon tore further through the wound on my palm. The Shambler shuddered as its head gradually separated from its shoulders.

I pulled.  The crowd cheered me on (some still heckled as well). I thought of Muffin, not knowing where she was, and thanked her for the blessing that was her leash. Rage spewed from my mouth; with a hefty tug, the nylon cord cleaved dead flesh and its brittle spinal cord. Its head plopped atop the sand.

My hand throbbed like hell, but it was better than the alternative. I fist pumped the air, playing to my supporters’ adulation. As I turned to leave the pit, I realized there was nowhere for me to go.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the suburbanite dad scores the upset victory!”

The ring announcer’s voice was nowhere, yet everywhere. I spun round and round in the sand, recalling the days I spent playing on the beach as a boy. But this was no beach.

“Can he do it again?”

And I am no longer a boy.

“I said, can he do it again?”

The car that delivered me into the pit didn’t offer further protection. And it’s not like I expected to find the keys inside. Even if they were, I’m wasn’t about to lock myself in and hide. What would’ve been the point? Of the many stories I’d heard, Shambler Club still remained a champion short worth remembering.

As the trailer door clanked open again, the crowd grew hush. I stood. I waited. I saw toenails, perfectly manicured, brushed with a blue stolen from summer’s sky. Skin so tan, so fresh – so unlike the thing rotting down at my feet. Shapely legs sprouting from designer shorts…my eyes continued their upward journey. I knew every inch of that dead flesh, of course. What I didn’t know was how they’d managed to turn my wife so fast.

I thought of all her sideways glances, tightened my grip on Muffin’s leash and charged.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2015 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

wolf_rule_full_sat

 

All the Children, Gone

Diana’s terrified lament sent sharp pricks down my spine, my stomach clenching as if I’d been punched. Leaping from the soft embrace of my easy chair, I ran for the door, spilling the can of beer I’d been holding all over the rug. A sudsy trail marked my progress to the front of the house.

My neighbor was on her porch, screaming incoherently, literally tearing tufts of her curly black hair out at the roots. Her cries had gotten everyone streaming from their houses. I was the closest, and the first to grab her by the shoulders. Her eyes were glassy, overflowing with tears. There was madness in them. Irretrievable madness.

“Diana, what’s wrong?”

Something inside me had an idea as to what had fractured this normally quiet, insular soul. I prayed I was wrong.

Her eyes met mine but there was no recognition. Elsa from across the street sprinted up the stairs. “Can you stay with her?” I said. Elsa nodded, folding Diana into her arms.

Bolting to the back of the house where the bedrooms were, I heard a child crying. Steeling myself as best I could, I stepped into Diana’s children’s room. The door was plastered with pages carefully removed from coloring books. On alternating pages were the names Ben and Cody, the way painters would add their signature to a canvas.

Cody sat up in bed, chest heaving with sobs. He looked across the room to his brother, Ben’s head hanging over the edge of his own bed. There was blood everywhere. It had soaked the mattress, dripping onto the floor with soft, steady plinks.

Everyone who knew the little hemophiliac boys worried about this happening one day. Cody and Ben, frail, tow-headed children who spent most of their days in the safe cocoon of their room, lived with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. I checked Ben’s pulse. His skin was already cold, the blood on my hand room temperature at best.

Covering Ben with the crimson sheet, I swallowed hard, finding it difficult to stand.

“I’m so sorry, Cody,” was all I could muster. I wanted to console the boy, hold him, but my hands were streaked with his twin’s blood.

“The Gray Man cut him,” the boy sputtered between sobs.

“What did you say?”

“He came in our room. I saw him!”

Now my heart thudded wildly. Was there an intruder in the house? Someone debased enough to murder a sick child?

I heard footsteps thundering in the house. More neighbors coming to see what had happened. “In here!” I shouted.

The footsteps stopped when someone else screamed outside. It wasn’t Diana. It was a man.

Phil from down the block halted in the doorway. His face went pale. “Oh my God.”

“What’s happening outside?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I think that was Martin shouting.”

Cody had gone silent, lying on his side, eyes unblinking, staring at the shrouded hump of his brother.

If it was Martin out there, he sounded even worse than Diana. “Watch Cody for me?”

Phil nodded, but I wasn’t sure he heard me. I had to squeeze past him to get out of the room.

Elsa was still with Diana, now surrounded by several women, a couple I didn’t recognize.

It had been Martin. The burly man was in the middle of the street on his knees, weeping. His eight year-old daughter, Katie, was in his arms. I would have thought she was asleep if not for the impossible angle of her head. Her neck had clearly been broken.

“Why?” he cried. “Why would someone take my Katie?”

Fiona and Arnold, my neighbors to the other side of me, let out twin peels of anguish. While people gathered around Martin, I sped toward their house. What the hell was going on?

I found them in the living room, their five-year-old son Tyler on the couch. It looked like every one of his limbs had been snapped in half.

“Call the fucking police!” Fiona wailed. I patted my pockets. My phone was back at the house.

“Did you see the Gray Man?” a small voice said beside me.

I looked down, shocked to see Cody. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him outside the perimeter of his house before. His eyes were blood red.

Arnold’s hands were balled into fists. He looked like he wanted to tear someone apart, if he didn’t fall apart first. “You saw someone come into my house?” he said to the eerily calm little boy.

Cody shook his head. “I saw him in my room. Ben and I dreamed about him and he came.”

“What?”

I stepped close to Arnold, whispering so Cody couldn’t hear. “He just watched his brother bleed out. He’s in shock.”

“The Gray Man said he needed helpers,” Cody continued. Poor Fiona looked about to faint. “And one day he’d come for us. He liked Ben better than me.”

I wanted to tell the boy to shut up. It wasn’t his fault. More voices cried out. They seemed to be coming from everywhere.

I got down on a knee, locking my eyes with Cody’s. “Can you tell us what the Gray Man looks like?”

There had to be a man, or men, responsible for this. The question, beyond the why, was how did they get into all of our houses in the middle of the day?

“It doesn’t matter,” Cody said. “He’s gone now. I don’t like the Gray Man. He said he’d take me with him. He’s a liar.”

Picking Cody up, I walked out of the house. Now, amidst the heart-rending cries of parents throughout the neighborhood, came the blaring of sirens. It felt and sounded like the end of the world. Men and women carried their broken children in a daze. The sidewalks were slick with tears.

Cody struggled in my arms. “I can help, too!” he blurted as he slipped free. Running to a tree, he scraped his arm against the bark, opening an angry, suppurating wound.

“No!”

I clamped my hands over the ragged gash, but the blood, thin as water, seeped through my fingers.

“I can help, too,” Cody whispered, then closed his eyes.

Police cars and ambulances swarmed the street. It would be impossible to direct them who to help first.

Cody shuddered, took one deep breath, and passed.

Maybe the Gray Man had come. I didn’t know whether to wish Cody could catch up to him and be with his brother, or flee as far as his spirit could from the monster who stole our innocents.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved

The Faceless Brides

Aislinn crawls under her covers, which feel cold against her skin, like her mother’s lips on wintry mornings when she kisses her goodbye for school. Goosebumps prickle her arms but she is not uncomfortable; she is in bed, the place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, and there is no discomfort in these things. Besides, the bed will grow warm quickly. It does so every night. At least, it has done every night beforehand.

Small fingers in the darkness find her bedcovers. Dragging the cotton sheets up her body to beneath her chin, she glances one last time across her room. This is her bedroom. Her private place, where she can host tea parties, entertain her dolls and read eagerly from glossy teen magazines, secreted beneath her mattress, without fear of being judged or, worse, disarmed.

The curtains flutter. Her rocking-horse creaks. From across the room, her Gameboy console flickers briefly into life. For one moment its blue light illuminates her shelf of smiling dolls – she sees Molly, Blossom, Lady Honeypaw, clutching tight the jar of her namesake – then it cuts out again. The room falls still.

She is half-asleep now. Her eyes are closing and she is drifting off. Her legs slip either side of her bedcovers, relishing the feel of them, the coolness against her skin, and in this half-sleep state she wishes for a bedtime story. Her thumb finds her mouth, as it always does when she is in bed and it is dark. Her thumb precludes dreams and sleep and a snug familiarity.

She wishes for a bedtime story. She wishes so very hard.

Her mother hasn’t read to her this evening. She can hear her some nights, through the floor, laughing with her father; the sounds of glasses clinking, of shrieks and the murmur of the television. Her mother reads less and less of late. Aislinn isn’t sure why. She sucks harder on her thumb, coats the digit in a glistening layer of saliva, and wishes her mother would read to her again, like she used to, like before.

The flutter of the curtains. The creak of the rocking horse. And another sound, like a crying dog, from somewhere nearby. She leans forward, peers over her crumpled covers, searching for its source. Her eyes scan her bedroom: the wardrobe, the night stand, the shelf where her dolls sit, glassy eyed, their lips stitched into beatific smiles. She knows those smiles. They are ‘supposed-to’ smiles. She wears them often enough.

And then she sees them. Three figures, no taller than Aislinn herself, standing quite still next to her mirror, beside the chest of drawers. She isn’t sure how long they have been standing there, hidden in plain sight by the dark. She doesn’t suppose it matters. Clutching her covers, her heart begins to race inside her chest.

Stepping through the darkness, they approach her silently. Perhaps they have come from the mirror, she thinks, or birthed from the shadows, or the fluffy insides of the dolls. The shadows cling to them like veils. Shrouded in blackness, they seem inscrutable, except for their whimpers, like Toby when he would trap his tail in the kitchen door. They smell like Toby too; wet fur, hot breath, rotten scents ill-fitting with their spirited movements.

They all three sweep towards her, limping across the bedroom floor, and she shrinks hurriedly into her covers, warmer now, infused with that sleepy smell. She takes a deep breath and, for one moment, the figures are forgotten for that smell.

Then they are around her bed.

They lean over the sheets, their chipped nails dragging delicately across the covers. Swathes of lace – or it might be lank hair – hang from their pencil-thin arms, and it is only when the first leans down, into Aislinn’s face, that she notices they wear veils, like those princesses from the animated films she loves to watch on Saturday mornings. Except they are like no princesses she has ever seen, and certainly no prince would ever march to save them, or slay a writhing serpent in their honour. She is a tight ball of trembling limbs beneath the covers.

Something thick and bulbous presses against the veil of the first; a tongue, long and swollen like a pale leech, and she wonders if these three are not the serpents themselves, in wicked disguise, come to claim her with their scaly claws. Her mouth opens, to shout, to cry, except no sound escapes her lips –

The curtains flutter, the rocking horse creaks and the three crones shudder to a stop. For a moment they seem to stare at each other through the murkiness of their veils. Then they spin slowly on their heels.

Something is happening to the rocking horse. It sways forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, steadily at first but with increasing pace, just like it does when she mounts it. The dolls are twitching too, their legs swinging, button eyes blinking. Then, with deliberate slowness, the horse’s broad, white neck curves round. It whinnies, snorts a steamy breath, and its pearly black eyes fix themselves onto the Harridans.

They all three whine in unison. A long, twisting horn winds its way from out of the rocking-horse’s forehead, and then it is no longer a rocking-horse but a proud stallion, thickly-muscled and fierce. His solitary horn shines silvery and hard in the moonlight and even from across the room she can count the age-rings, smooth and marbled, on its surface.

He paws her bedroom carpet, strikes the fabric with his hooves, and snorts steamily again until he has the crones’ attention. He is her defender, she realises, wiping away the tears from her eyes. Even though she has not ridden him for a long time now, he remembers her hands on his neck. He remembers her weight on his back, her legs pressed tight to his sides, and he will fight for her.

The crones stagger with horrid purpose towards him. Shadows bleed from beneath their arms and the long strips of lace that hang there, and with every step closer to the horse their lamenting wails intensify.

Aislinn shrinks further beneath her covers as, with a dreadful lurch, the first crone reaches the stallion. He whinnies and rears up as she draws near, shining hooves pedalling beside the toy-box. The crone cowers on the floor before him and for a moment it looks as though the stallion might triumph, his eyes two glistening marbles in the dark.

Then the other two reach his sides. Their lamenting cries made all the more horrible for what they are about to do, they claw him, their fingers shearing long, thin rashers from his flanks. Cackling and weeping they bury their fingers deeper into his pale coat, drawing blackness from within, only this blackness is wet and drips from their hands to stain the carpet below. He throws back his head, his eyes rolling. Giddy sounds erupt from his throat.

One by one her dolls drop from the shelf. The room fills with soft sounds as they hit the carpet, then the patter of their boots as they rush across the floor. Reaching up they tug at the crones, grasping the strands of lace and hair, pulling them back from the horse with Lilliputian might. She sees Molly and Blossom, their stitched lips pursed tight, and feels hope again.

With a voiceless heave, they bring one crone to the ground. She screams as she topples into the sea of smiling faces, her grey dress floating around her. They grab the dress and pin her down, Lady Honeypaw climbing triumphant onto her chest. She upends her pot of honey over the veiled face.

The last crone scatters her assailants. She snatches them up, tears them in two and tosses them away. Stuffing spills from their broken bodies, buttons plink across the room, then she returns her hands to the steed.

He stumbles. Aislinn feels him fall and she trembles. Screams judder from his throat and he sinks down to his knees, the toy-box shattering beneath his bulk. Its contents scatter across the carpet. Sheared flesh covers the broken dolls, blood splashes their button eyes and then the stallion’s mane darkens, until it might have been one of the scouring pads her mother uses to scratch out dirt from the sink. The stallion lies still amid her toys.

The crones regroup and turn, together, to her bed. She trembles harder beneath her sheets. Her eyes brim with tears again, although she is otherwise motionless, frozen by a mixture of fear and something else, something strange, a feeling of familiarity. Downstairs, all is silent. Her mother and father must have gone to bed. She has no brothers or sisters. Toby is long gone now, ‘to be with the angels in the sky,’ though she knows he really occupies a shallow hole in the back garden, behind the roses. She remembers dank soil, his short fur and cold flesh.

As she drags her covers over her, so that only her eyes are visible, she realises she knows these crones. They are her long-dead dog, her slain steed, every bedtime without stories; fears made half-physical in the dark and the night. She sees something of herself in the crones’ withered forms; and her mother and her grandmother, and realises they are not just crones but brides, manifestations of age and motherhood, come to claim her at last, as they must claim all growing girls –

The three rise up once more around her bed. They lean in close, and even through her covers, their salty breaths catching in her throat. It seems like everything warm, everything nice, everything she knows is good and right, is swallowed up by the black void of their veils. Their fingers rise to their veils, clasping them even as their other hands brush Aislinn’s covers. For a moment their hands hover there. Then, with one quick motion, they tear the delicate net cloth from their faces.

A scream fills Aislinn’s mouth. It fills her bedroom too, piercing even the blackest shadows as she looks upon the faces of the brides. Then the brides are gone and she is sitting up in the darkness, her mother rushing to her side, concern and sleep in equal measures in her eyes.

Slowly Aislinn calms down. Her mother switches on lights and reads to her. After a while, her breathing steadies. Her eyes regain a languid glaze. Guided by her mother’s words, she sinks back into her bed; that place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, except not so familiar any more.

Unable to place what has changed, in a room that has not, she drifts uncertainly back to sleep and dreams of riding down the aisle atop a snorting stallion, delicate lace trailing after her, a thin net veil before her face.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved

Damned Words 13

lone_tree

Silently, Deliberately
Jon Olson

Every day, like a moth to a flame, I revisit this spot, eager to see it again. Leaning back against the tree, I gaze out onto the horizon. My eyes scan left to right, right to left. It was here, on this small protrusion of land, I saw it hovering silently, deliberately above the Atlantic water. Mechanical, organic, frightening and alluring all rolled into one. For hours I watched with morbid fascination until it finally disappeared into the sky. Since then, my dreams, every waking moment, have been obsessing over it. So here I sit, waiting, hoping, for its return.


Burn To Your Core
Joseph A. Pinto

And still I survive here; and I am charred; and I am lifeless without ever having died. You surround me with portrait skies my limbs can never touch; only the water to nourish me, delivered by beak of bird and sob of storm. Yes, you planted me in barren ground, but I chose to take root. Strove to blossom. More than ever, I realize I cannot. How deathly I must appear against the backdrop you manufactured, an obstruction to all you’d thought perfected. An eyesore so startling I am beauty in my own right; it must burn to your core.


Rest In Peace
Thomas Brown

Last night I ate with my family for the last time. My brothers and sisters drank, danced, laughing as they have laughed for centuries while gorging themselves to sate the endless void. Let them. I can’t remember ever feeling so full, so monstrously sick of it all. Dawn approaches. Over and over the sea heaves itself against the grey shingles. I was born here; it seems right that I should end here too. Standing on the shore, I watch the waves and the ash floating over them. Birds scream. The sea sighs. I am here, now, and it is beautiful.


Black
Craig McGray

It’s been years since anything has blossomed. Sure, an overly ambitious weed may sprout from time to time, or a sporadic leaf may unfold from the tip of a naked branch, but the inky blackness from the soil strangles any attempt to splash color onto its infected landscape. Mankind and nature alike have been smothered by the rot that has stolen the color from the ground and seas. The sky remains the only hint of color in our decimated world and even that will soon be gone. Each day grows shorter, every night becomes longer. We did this to ourselves.


Duel at Dawn
Blaze McRob

A gentle breeze carries the stench of rot to this seemingly idyllic park. Voices, agitated, from both sides, toss curses at each other, bellowing out that the other will get what is coming to him. They back up to each other, take the ten obligatory paces, turn, and aim.

Lightning strikes the little piece of land jutting out into the river as it has for hundreds of years, ripping through the soil. Both men drop to the ground without a shot being fired.

There will be a duel at dawn once more. Until there is a victor, neither can rest . . .


Rise
Magenta Nero

Finally, a precious moment alone. Staring into the vast emptiness of sky her troubled thoughts churn. The afternoon sun glares in the distance. She frowns as she watches it, an uneasy feeling creeping over her. It is not the sun. It is moving, hurtling towards her quickly. It comes to a sudden halt above her, a huge and gleaming object. She clutches her ears as a deep grating hum fills her head. She thinks to run, to scream, but she can’t move. Her body begins to rise, sucked by a stream of blinding light into the belly of the craft.


Promises, Promises
Hunter Shea

She was hanging from the lone tree by the sea, the very place we first made love, our sweat crystallizing with salt, the ammonia scent of our urgency sticky between us. Her limp body presented a dark silhouette against the setting sun. I saw her clothes in a wrinkled pile beneath her feet, toes pointed to where we once lay, a jumble of limbs and satisfied orifices. The surf crashed, imperceptible flecks of foam plinking into the pores of my face.

Her body jerked.

No!

One cut. She gasped.

Into the sea, my love. I promised you a beautiful death.


Watching Clouds
Tyr Kieran

That was the day our greatest fear came true. A slow build war neither cold nor vigorous. The talking heads had spewed their hype for months, only exacerbating the arrogant, heavy-handed mistakes of the politicians. Cultures clashed causing egos to surge up and trample all over rationale. It wasn’t surprising that international spite and jealously is what pushed the button in the end. When the alert hit the airwaves and our government admitted their diplomatic errors, it was far too late–death was on the way. No sense in running. I just sat down and watched the mushroom cloud form.


Anointed
By Nina D’Arcangela

Raised are the seas that stood calm before me; quelled are those that traveled by wing to mock me; desiccated is all that once grew to surround me – I stand alone. Arms raised toward the heavens, I pulled upon God’s wrath to sear man’s attempt to staunch my avarice, my deserved ferocity. Tarred may be my flesh, but my spirit stands rooted in this land; untouchable. I thrive not for my glory, but for the one I have served eternally. Each leaf bloomed; yet another tear of poison shed. Each leaf fallen; yet another drop of the demon’s blood spread.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2015
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Son of Fenrir

His left arm hung from its socket, the blood running from deep gashes down its length, dripping off his fingers in a steady stream and collecting in a pool on the ground next to his foot. Hunched over, tired, with labored breathing, he still held his axe tightly in his right hand. Blonde hair, caked in dirt, sweat and blood, hung in front of his hardened face covering blue eyes that had yet to concede defeat.

With a Viking’s defiance, Anders Randalson looked into the eyes of his opponent.

Wolf like and taller than the average man, the creature was made in the very image of Fenrir.

The beast was not without its own battle scars. A deep cut ran from its right ear down the face, narrowly missing its right eye and ending at the snout; its torso decorated with lacerations and contusions.

“You have fought bravely, Norseman,” the beast hissed, foam dripping from its parched and thirsty lips. “It is over, though. Accept your fate and I will make it quick.” It swallowed hard before continuing. “The Valkyries are here to take you to Valhalla.”

Anders let his eyes depart from the beast to take in his surroundings. Bodies littered the coastal plains, with the earth itself a crimson brown thanks to the liters of spilled blood. The trees that sporadically grew from the ground were bare and void of any vegetation, almost serving as markers of the fallen.

A caw caught Anders’ attention and he looked up to see two ravens land on top of one of the dead trees.

Odin’s ravens.

“They aren’t here,” Anders said, returning his gaze to the Son of Fenrir. “Not yet.” He grinned as he readied his axe, preparing for another clash.

The beast hesitated briefly, sighed, and quickly regained its composure. It smiled, baring dozens of razor sharp teeth. A guttural sound rumbled from deep inside its throat, erupting into an ear-splitting howl of rage as the two combatants charged towards one another with death on the line.

Anders raised his axe and swung it towards the beast’s head but his opponent was quicker. It dodged the axe’s blade and raked its claws along the side of Anders’ chain mail, slicing his skin underneath. The beast snapped at Anders’ face with its enormous mouth, its breath hot and foul on Anders’ skin, just missing him by inches.

Seizing an opportunity, Anders head butted the beast between its eyes and managed to strike it in the jaw with the blunt edge of his axe.

The Son of Fenrir roared in pain and anger, jumping out of the way at the last second as Anders tried to split its skull.

Wincing as the fresh cuts on his side burned, Anders could feel his strength draining with each labored breath.

“Look around you, Norseman,” the Son of Fenrir taunted, slowly circling him. “I can bring the end about quick and painless. You have earned your spot in the Great Hall.”

The ravens flapped their wings and cawed again.

“Almost,” Anders replied.

In a sudden burst of power and quickness that caught Anders off guard, the beast charged, throwing its shoulder into Anders’ chest. The blow sent the wounded Viking sprawling onto his back. Before he could push himself up, the beast was upon him. It tore through his chainmail, driving its claws deep into his gut. Anders screamed as the beast maneuvered its hand around until it was able to grip the bottom of his ribcage.

“I gave you two chances for a quick death,” the Son of Fenrir snarled. In a motion that sent agony rippling through Anders’ body, the beast lifted the Viking into the air. “Now I will make you beg for death in such a manner that the All Father himself will be ashamed of you.” It lifted him higher and Anders rolled his head back as he screamed.

In one final surge of strength, Anders swung the axe with all he had, surprising the beast. It tried to dodge it but was too slow as the blade cut into the skull, lodging itself inside the beast’s head.

Howling, it ripped its hand, along with shreds of entrails, out from Anders’ stomach, dropping the Viking onto the ground.

The Son of Fenrir tried to grab the axe’s handle and pull it out, but the blade had been buried too deep. It staggered a few steps to the left then limped to the right. The beast’s breathing became shallow as it dropped to its knees. It turned its head and looked into Anders’ eyes one last time, then fell forward.

It did not move again.

Anders turned his attention to the grey sky and saw the ravens flying overhead. With a final caw, they acknowledged the fallen warrior as the Valkyries flew down to carry Anders home to Valhalla.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

War Criminal

The calm evening teemed with latent purpose. Warm lights glowed in the windows of surrounding suburban homes as families finished their supper and settled down in front of their televisions for the night’s sitcoms and news casts. Nothing moved outside, but the gentle scraping-tumble of fallen leaves along the curb.

Nothing moved, but much was watching. More than a dozen pairs of eyes peered from the shadows of cold cars and unlatched sheds, all focused on the same house.

Inside, a wrinkled man stood under the yellow light of a bathroom sconce. He selected a couple pills from the medicine cabinet and downed them with an oversized swallow of scotch. With a trembling hand, he wiped the overflow from his chin. Deep creases, darkened by time and things that cannot be unseen, underscored his faded blue eyes. Averting his own gaze, he frowned and tossed the glass into the sink. The etched crystal clamored against the porcelain basin. He slipped his arms into a thick fleece robe before walking out of the room and down the unlit hall.

Outside—a few moments later—dormant purpose awakened.

The tranquility of the neighborhood remained intact despite the sudden flurry of activity. Gear strapped men poured from vehicles, storage sheds, and various points of cover like wasps from a disturbed hive. Within seconds, they traversed the property’s uneven walkways, forsaken lawn, and unkempt flower beds, charging toward the old man’s house in utter stealth. Carbine assault rifles led the way as the men gained entry and navigated to the man’s windowless bedroom.

The entire SWAT team converged on their rendezvous point and fell still, weapons trained on the single location. All attention shifted from the unoccupied bed to Captain Sutherland, who wasted only a brief moment to incredulity before throwing hand signals to each group. As the team scattered—skulking room to room, rechecking the entire house in continued silence—he whispered into his shoulder radio.

“Eyes, the Intel is bad. The target may be aware. Any exterior movement?”

The response came with a soft click, “None, Sir.”

“How could—”

“Sir!” The terse whisper came from an officer behind him. The Captain turned to see the man pointing at the floor next to the room’s only nightstand. He moved closer with slow, deliberate steps. At the wall’s base, a faint seam of light pulsed in the darkness.

Sutherland clicked the recall on his radio three times before approaching the area. With the measured precision of a bomb squad technician, he ran his hand up and down the wall, then the legs of the small, adjacent table. His fingers slid along the surfaces with uninterrupted fluidity until he reached the narrow space between the nightstand and the plaster. He signaled to the arriving team with a fist over his head, pointed at the wall, and then depressed the unseen button.

A portion of the wall pivoted open, oozing more light into the bedroom. Sutherland signaled again, this time wordlessly ordering only four of the men to action. One officer approached the flickering light and peered through the gap with a mirrored wand. Then, pushing open the door with the muzzle of his rifle, he entered the space; the exploratory team and their Captain following close behind.

It was a tapered, unfinished hallway that terminated after a few feet. At the end, a rectangular hole in the floor glowed with faint yellow light; a quick, mirrored view revealed a descending staircase. From somewhere below, a muffled voice spoke in hurried tones—muffled, but distinctly German.

The leading officer reached for a stun grenade, but the Captain stopped his hand as a second voice emerged. After listening for a few moments, Sutherland indicated to move onward with artificial eyes. The stairs took them one story below the home’s basement level. At the bottom, heavy curtains shielded their descent, but also the activities and occupants on the other side.

Though still unintelligible to the team, it was clear the two voices were very different in pitch, yet both spoken in similarly swift and harsh demeanors.

Captain Sutherland peeked through the fabric. After a brief view, he stepped back and faced his team.

“It’s bad,” he whispered, shaking his head.

The officers exchanged wide-eyed glances.

“We take Hausser alive—use restraint. Possibly armed.” Sutherland hissed at his men and clicked his shoulder radio three times. “Take him alive.”

Turning back to the curtains, he brought up his Carbine and took a deep breath. He counted down with his fingers, then burst through the hanging cloth.

The scene was fairly static, but the nature of the in-progress events made it feel like chaos to him. Adrenaline prickled along every nerve as his eyes darted around the room—trying to process it all while remaining focused on safety and containment.

His men were shouting.

He was shouting.

SS General Wilhelm Hausser sat at room’s center, kneeling amid an extensive arrangement of half-melted candles, lines of carefully placed sand, shallow bowls of cloudy liquid, and a variety of chalk-drawn symbols that looked to Sutherland like modified pentagrams, stars, and swastikas. A massive stone sarcophagus, draped with fabric, bordered the main wall. Atop the altar was several silver pans bloodied with corporeal offerings and the human remains of what once was a young woman. Nazi banners lined the walls, flanking the altar.

Hausser held his blood covered hands in the air, one of them still clutching a dripping, ornate dagger.

“No. No, you don’t understand,” he said, the sleeves of his robe shaking as he yelled back at the officers, “Wait. Ju—just wait.”

“Put down the weapon!”

“Drop it!”

The Captain joined the shouting match, while motioning to his team with an open hand that his query took precedence. “Who else is here? Where are they?”

“Please,” the German replied, rising to his feet, “I must be allowed to finish—it has never been left unfinished.”

“Stop! Drop the knife, now!”

Hausser pivoted, moving forward, pleading with the speaking officer, “You don’t understand. We must—”

Deafening shots echoed through the chamber.

Hausser collapsed.

“No!” Sutherland shouted. “Stop firing!”

He dropped to check the German’s pulse.

Amid a bloody coughing fit, the war criminal forced out his last words, “Must finish. Read book out loud. Do… it. Or… or… he’ll…”

“Fuck! We needed him alive, God damn it!”

“But the knife…” the officer argued. “Sir, he was—”

As if in the throes of an earthquake’s seismic wave, the chamber rumbled. A deep, booming voice intoned in an unknown language, “Hasturyar nglui uh’e tharanak li’hee tharod.”

Cracks split across the walls like lighting. Dust sifted down as the house above them groaned. For the first time in his long career, Sutherland didn’t know how to instruct his men. He saw the wild panic in their faces, and was certain his looked the same. Any blind hope he held in regaining control, in helping the team, fell prey to the unthinkable.

The voice spoke again, but this time it had a source. Knocking the offerings—her own flesh and organs—to the floor, the corpse sat up and stepped down from the altar. “Kn’aoth ee grah’nnyth sgn’wahl!”

Her empty eye sockets glared at the officers. She raised a finger to them and one by one, they suffered. They screamed—a high pitched, unnatural scream beyond the agony he’d heard from any wounded soldier in Vietnam. Blood poured from their eyes, filling their goggles, and by the time they brought their hands up to their faces the blood and viscous fluids rained down from under their helmets.

One after another, his men died; none made it more than a few feet.

The corpse stepped close to the Captain, her empty sockets now aimed at him. He tried to speak, but the air grew dense in his throat, constricting his lungs like icy water. A searing light flashed in his eyes and burned through the synapses of his mind—his brain afire with a torrent of whispering voices and ritual scriptures and symbols.

Sutherland felt something wet running from his ears, from the corners of his eyes, down his throat. He could feel the force and vibration of his own screams, but only heard the painful whirlwind of voices as they converged into one. The booming voice consumed his senses. It spoke in the same archaic language, but now, somehow, he understood.

“Rhagyth ekn—but you, I will keep. Go wreak chaos upon the mortals; announce my arrival. Announce extinction.”

A sudden wave of numbness consumed his head and flowed down throughout his body. The burning pain was gone, but something else took residence in its place. Like an itch, it nagged at him—a prickling thought, that told him to act.

It had to be scratched.

Sutherland lifted his rifle and fired a round into the woman’s skull and her corpse dropped to the floor. The itch cooled for a moment, but came back stronger. It dug at his psyche like a necrotic rash eating away his sanity. It pushed him, urged him to do as commanded, and to start with the rest of his team.

He looked down at the rifle in his hand. “No. I—”

“Go!” The voice shook the room, further cracking the foundation, and exacerbating the urge in his mind.

It had to be scratched.

The Captain raised his rifle under his chin, “Do it yourself!”

He pulled the trigger and crumpled to the floor. Blood and pulp trickled out of his helmet. Dead eyes stared at the wall.

His hand twitched.

Then, he pushed himself up off the floor, grabbed the nearest rifle, and slapped a fresh magazine into place.

“Ph’ngu hlrigh”

        — translation: “My pleasure.”

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Burning Soil

The ground below your delicately formed feet begins to shift, sending you tumbling to within a breath’s width of the insanity you know awaits you should you ever truly fall;  you struggle to maintain your hold – a hold that for eons has treated you so kindly, so reverently, so graciously. You suckle and gasp for that earlier delight that still echos through your now destroyed body.  This gaping new view of the emptiness you see around you leaves you wondering which part of this horror-scape is to be accepted as a horror of your own making, and which part is far too horrible to be allowed existence any longer.  How does one go about choosing their individual horror without having a previous grasp of their own tenuous reality? A reality stroked so gently; consumed so fully; torn to pieces in such an eloquent display of cruelty… naive, silly girl, you never did pay attention to anything other than your own wants – why did you not heed the danger when you still had the chance to do so?

Existence in this newly scorched reality is – other. You breathe in the foul tainted air, retching vile fluids from your own rotting organs while desperately reaching for handfuls of once moist, rich soil; the soil that continually sifts through your small clutching fingers; for you cannot hold what is no longer there. You weep for a blanket to shroud you from the view of your newly exposed self.

Can you no longer feel the gentle caress of the sun’s offered warmth? Have you, like the insignificant creatures that feed from your lush womb, begun to shrivel under his now harsh and ever seeking glare? No, not you; for you will offer yourself to this beast who brings the searing pain only to weep at its feet while its brilliance burns you from within; laying to waste the wretched thing that you are.  You will seek to undo this cruel fortune that has been bestowed upon you, but in that seeking, you will yourself be undone. You are a creature of will, one foolish enough to forgo turning your face from the ever increasing blindness the searing light brings; you are a creature that believes herself to be the worst of all things in his eyes… worthy.

This all consuming brightness, this overwhelming luminescence, this addictive, abusive wave that pounds its putrid nourishment into you – how you will suffer for it… begging for his mercy, a mercy that he does not pretend to offer, but you will beg nonetheless… and in doing so, you will try to rise upward; growing closer to the light believing yourself to be his equal – this giver of all things; this taker of pure souls. But your soul is not pure, is it?  Your soul is tainted by the ecstasy of existence. You, who have fed off the offal that has been lain down upon the altar before you; you, who have sipped from the chalice with the proffered blood of those baring no shame, the untainted, the yet to be ripened; you, who have ripped the meat from the bones of the small bleating sheep with your bared teeth and ragged claws as it lay there staring up at you with trusting, unknowing eyes. All the while, glorious creature that you are, you feel nothing; not an ounce of remorse for your glutenous act of satisfaction, feasting on the dying embers of the slowly dwindling soul before you.

The feathered one who tainted the sweet nectar – the devourer of forbidden fruit – the selfish wretch who cannot exist without consuming the flesh of the gentle, the deserving; you are these things and more. You are the speaker of lies – muttering those sacred and meaningless words while they are being whispered every so seductively into your own arrogant and self-indulgent ear.  You are the reason the soil shall burn; you are the reason the soil is already burning.

You are a thing not worthy of worship, though you have had much of it, but now the beast has come to set you to rights; your penance shall be to worship him with the blind devotion you once commanded for yourself.

skull_fangs2~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved

Midnight Rum

A dark night. Clouds and no moon. No wonder he almost falls over the tombstones. Has nothing to do with the fact he’s flying high, caught in the loving embrace of the alcohol numbing his senses.

“Lights,” he mutters. “They need lights in here at night!”

The absurdity hits him. Who needs to see in here? The dead? No one else should be here. But he is. This is the perfect place to drink his ill-gotten hooch.

He was one drunken bastard before he even went down the alleyway behind the liquor store, but he was aware enough to notice old Harold, the evening counterman, standing at the far end of the building, having a smoke and trying to cop a feel from Lucille, the town’s resident hooker.

That left the store unattended. All those bottles screaming out to him, insisting he give them a good home. Ed listened to the bottles, ran inside, grabbed a bag from the counter and filled it up with the nectar of the Gods. It didn’t matter what he grabbed – he liked it all. As long as alcohol was inside, he would be happy. He left through the front door. By the time Harold would hear the bell and get back inside, Ed would be long gone.

“Now I need a good place to sit, lean back, and enjoy a few drinks,” Ed says.

As if by divine intervention, he finds a huge oak tree and, feeling around with his feet, discovers it is surrounded by nice soft grass. Perfect!

“Let’s see what kind of goodies I got. I’ll have to toast Lucille for keeping Harold occupied. I don’t know what he was thinking. The old goat ain’t been able to get it up for twenty years now. Shit! That’s why his wife left him. Shirley needed a man to satisfy her needs. Too bad Shirley left town. I enjoyed some fine ass from that lady.”

He reaches into the bag and grabs the biggest bottle. In his condition, it isn’t easy to open, but when a man is thirsty and needs to get even more of a buzz, he finds a way. He takes a long pull on the bottle, and the fiery but sweet liquid moves down his throat.

“Oh, rum! The good shit! The 151 proof stuff.”

The bottle is a third of the way gone, and he has all he can do to sit up straight against the tree, when the air around him becomes putrid, so bad as to affect the taste of the rum. But Ed is a pro and goes back to the bottle.

“Whatever that stench is will leave soon. I hope it’s not a fucking skunk, though. I’m in no shape to get away from one.”

His vision, which is bad enough to be begin with because of the dark, gets progressively worse, everything becoming hazy. The world spins around him, and Ed knows he will be spending the night with the dead. He’s in no shape now to walk home.

The Ghoul is amused by this pathetic human. To get this drunk is uncalled for. Does he not care about his health? Yes, the monster has tasted the flesh of the dead with remnants of alcohol in their systems. But this . . . but this will be the first opportunity he has had to feast on a living body with as much booze as this one has. The thought of the bliss works into the creature’s mind, and he salivates at the promise of his wonderful feast. How high will he get as he devours this weak-willed man?

Not worrying about being quiet – it doesn’t matter – this sap is too soused to go anywhere, the Ghoul walks up to Ed and sits down next to him, his disgusting stench causing Ed to jerk forward.

“Easy,” the Ghoul says, “don’t move too fast or all that fine rum will come out as puke. That would be a waste, my friend.”

“Who . . . who the fuck are you? Man, you have a huge odor problem!”

The Ghoul laughs. “That’s not a nice thing to say, Ed. Not nice at all. Just call me Algol. That will be just fine.”

It’s hard for Ed to think right now, the rum pulling at him from every direction. Were it not for this Algol character and his stench, he is sure he would be passed out by now.

“What do you want?” he asks him, and as his hand finds Algol’s hairy body, he adds, “Why are you naked? You shouldn’t be out walking around with no clothes on. Damn, you’re hairy!”

Peals of laughter rip across the cemetery as Algor gets closer to Ed. “I never wear clothes, Ed. I live below the ground. I don’t need clothes.”

How does this thing know his name? What’s going on?

“Everyone knows you, Ed. You’re a drunk. Plain and simple. Many nights I heard you stumbling home in one of your stupors. A number of evenings you passed out and spent the night here, not even waking up when the driving rain attacked your body. But those times I wasn’t allowed to interfere with your life. Now, it’s a whole different story.”

This beast is somehow capable of reading his mind. Ed feels his thoughts being pulled on. No! That’s impossible!

“You are luckier than the others, Ed. Your rum will help you not feel as much pain. Rest assured, however, that there will be pain, and the nightmares you think you’re having will fade into oblivion as you feel your life force being sucked out of you.”

No more talking; no more thinking. Algol rips into Ed’s neck with his vile, yellowish black teeth and starts his feast. The searing pain, not inhibited by the alcohol’s presence, manifests itself throughout his body as the taste of the Ghoul’s stench drops onto his tongue.

The blood, mixed with the sweet rum, tastes good to Algol, and causes him to fall under the spell of the alcohol, not in the manner it affected Ed but in a calm, relaxing way. “Ah, no wonder these monkeys like this stuff,” he thinks.

Bite after delicious bite and taste after taste of the sweet blood brings Ed closer to death. The alcohol still in his system has made him last longer than the others before Algol took one bite too many and they met their next appointment – with the afterlife.

Under the pleasant numbing effect of the rum and blood, the Ghoul does not hasten his dinner. This is beyond his wildest dreams! The only thing better would be if Ed were a woman and he could add that other element of ecstasy to this experience.

Moments before Algol sucks the last of Ed’s blood out of his body, the body and mind of the town drunk reconcile with fate and are gone. One last stare; one last gasp.

The Ghoul leans back against the oak, content with himself, even forgetting the hatred inside his soul for the God who did this to him. Times are different now. Revenge. Somehow, maybe, it will come.

He grabs the bottle of rum and drinks from it. There is no need for hurry. He can rid the cemetery of Ed’s existence soon enough. Can’t let the demon rum go to waste.

An hour, maybe two, goes by, and Algol’s hair sensors pick up on something approaching.

What the . . .

***

The tantalizing aroma of a woman drifts through the evening air. Oh, those sweet love juices talk to him, reminding him of his earlier desires. Midnight Rum can wait a little. There are more important things to be taken care of.

All is not quite right, however. This woman is searching for something in the cemetery, stopping every now and then to taste the air and smell what is above, as well as what lies below.

She stops, standing on her toes, and breathes deeply. Algol’s senses become a flurry of excitement! Finally, after all these years, she is here: the answer to his hopes and dreams. A woman of his species! He will not be alone any longer; he will have someone to share his life with.

His new partner trembles in the joy that she is alone no more. How long she has waited for a coupling. On a number of occasions, she had found a mate, only to have him leave, mainly because Ghouls were despised and hated by these weak humans who truly knew so little about them. Same as Algol, they could only guess the effects many of these creatures working together  would have on them. Like Gypsies, they were forced to travel to avoid harm or possible harm at the least. When that happened, they were usually split up, never to be reunited.

Her body hairs tingle with the excitement; her hunger can wait. She needs a man.

Algol stands, waiting for his new mate to find him, her power over his senses growing by the second. He shakes in anticipation of the moment when the two of them become entwined in their display of longing for each other. He doesn’t know if this so-called feeling of love the humans say they have apply to his kind or not. To him, Ghouls have a much more refined approach to life and the joys that titillate their senses.

She walks ever so slowly, savoring every delectable moment to draw him in to her before they make physical contact. His scent, while offensive to humans is a magnet to her, drawing her to his waiting arms. The sound of his rapidly beating heart and the sight of his pulsating body hairs beat against her skin.

Unable to contain himself any longer, he rushes to meet her, pulling her down to the grass. Sensing her need to eat, Algol brings what’s left of Ed’s body to her. “Eat some scraps from the poor departed Ed, Lillith. When you’re done, we will find a larger meal for you to feast on.”

She smiles, happy in the knowledge her new partner will be a sharing one. It is no surprise to her that he knows her name. She knows his as well. Shared powers.

Lillith devours what is left of Ed, surprised at his fresh taste and enchanted with the heady rum flavoring added to it.

“How did you find such a fresh corpse, Algol? His meat was delicious, unlike any I have ever eaten.”

“Ah, Lillith, have you not been repulsed and angered over the injustices from God to make us mere scavengers when we are so much more powerful than the creatures we eat?”

She looks at him, wondering what he suggests, and it creeps into her mind. “You mean . . .”

“Yes, Lillith, we’re no longer bound by the old ways. There is a war being waged elsewhere between God and Satan. Our doings no longer concern them.”

Lillth drools, thinking of the possibilities, the joys, the new experiences; shared ones now that she has a partner. “We can devour the flesh of the living?”

“Yes, my dear, and it is such sweet revenge. Tasty delights that plead for mercy as you slowly partake of their flesh. We are no longer held beneath the esteem of the humans. We are their superiors in every way.”

She bristles at the very thought of consuming the flesh of the victims as they push against her, trying to gain their freedom. Yes, she is the female of the species, but in  matters other than gender, they are equal. All Ghouls are powerful beings. “I shall enjoy this new way to feast. Can we start looking for a meal now, Algol?”

“Yes, Lillith. I have already feasted but you need to eat more. Let’s find you a proper dinner.”

They move to the northwest section of the cemetery and wait for some fool to come by. Their presence is concealed by the trees bordering the sidewalk. Other than their inimitable odor to tip someone off, they are invisible to the naked human eye on this dark night. A perfect evening to wait for prey.

***

The ground moves quickly under Brad’s feet as he runs down the lonesome road adjacent to the graveyard. He loves to run at this time of day. No one else around to destroy his feeling of euphoria when he transcends his previous limits and explodes into unchartered territory. Another good thing about running now is he doesn’t have to worry about anyone seeing him if he has to take a leak, and does he ever need to piss.

He shoves his pecker through the iron fence partitions and tends to business. Before he is able to put it back in his shorts, his dick is grabbed and he is pulled toward the fence, his head slapping against the metal from the force.

Something vaults over the fence and runs behind him, the stench of it and what is in front of him almost causing him to lose consciousness. The taste of wrought iron and putrid mold combine to overpower his gag reflex and he dry-heaves. Laughter sounds out before sharp teeth tear into his shaft, removing it from his body. In total shock and bleeding profusely, he is unable to utter a sound.

The beast behind Brad lifts him up and tosses him over the fence to his partner who feasts upwards on him from the gaping emptiness in his groin. The shock of being eaten alive is made worse by the sight of his attackers. While he struggles against their attack, he tries to reason things out – not easy to do now that he has to mount up some sort of defense.

While his running might have made Brad a super-strong individual, it did not prepare him for the brute strength he would need to escape. But would anything have?

As Lillith munches on the prone form of Brad, Algol tears off one of the runner’s arms and starts chomping away. Lillith jumps to where the blood pours and drinks heavily, the thick red liquid feeling heavenly as it goes down her throat. Her fingers tear off chunks of his face that she shoves into her mouth in between gulps of the warm life-giving nectar.

Brad’s heart goes out of control, pumping viciously before it explodes. Even the heart of a well-conditioned athlete can only take so much. As he draws his last breath, Lillith bites down into his skull and starts eating his brain.

Algol sits on a tombstone and watches his lady with profound respect. She has learned quickly. The two of them will make a fine team.

She finishes up with Brad and stares at Algol, blood dripping all over her, pieces of the man’s innards forming a necklace across her breasts. “That was incredible! I have never had such a meal. This is the best night of my life!”

Algol laughs. “It’s not over yet, Lillith. Let’s drink more of what these humans call rum. We still have a few hours before the sun rises.”

Lillith enjoys the smooth taste of the rum mixing with the blood. The Demon Rum relaxes them both. A great night!

Passions rise again . . .

~ Blaze McRob

© Copyright 2015 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.

Helplessly Above It All

I’m fourteen days, three hours and twenty seconds into the mission. So far the spacecraft has performed flawlessly, surpassing all expectations. It’s been rather comfortable as the capsule was designed with more room for the occupant than previous spacecraft.

When I was selected to be the commander of this mission, my wife got the biggest kick out of watching me jump around our little apartment with a big shit eating grin on my face. She said that…

…she said… why am I even bothering to mention her?

She’s dead.

So is everybody else.

I should never have taken this assignment. Prior to the launch, the administrators had told me to say a proper goodbye to her as tensions were high with our rivals across the pond. The risk of nuclear exchange was at its greatest, even more so than during the Cuban crisis.

I didn’t take it seriously.

The officials were still going ahead with the launch and I treated it as business as usual. I cringe remembering my last words to her.

“Keep the steaks warm.”

I watched helplessly above it all as hundreds of nuclear missiles launched from their silos. Had it been a simulation, I would have described the mushroom clouds sprouting up from the impacts as mesmerizing; however, knowing each one signaled the eradication of civilization, I felt numb. My radio had gone silent after a partial scream was obliterated in a roar of static.

That all happened on the second day of the mission.

Through each window, I can see the planetoid carcass that was once Earth. It used to be a beautiful sight with shades of white, blue, green and brown; a source of wonder and full of life. Now it’s an inhospitable cancer, smothered with the unnatural, burning clouds.

I left my radio on over those twelve days but only empty static and the ghosts of my memories kept me company. I would have loved to hear another human voice – even if it had been the enemy.

Not anymore.

I’ve just initiated my reentry procedure. Within minutes, my ship will fire its rockets one final time, propelling me back towards the nuclear polluted earth. When the moment comes to deploy the parachutes, I will simply sit back and enjoy the ride. I’d rather die in an impact crater on the earth’s surface than orbiting above it.

They fire right on cue and I feel the ship slowly descending into the atmosphere.

“Can anybody… me?” The voice crackles through my headset. “My name is…” A burst of static hisses then fades. “If anyone can hear me, please acknowledge…”

I lean forward to reply then stop. There’s no way I can interrupt the reentry procedure. Even if I could, what would be the point? As the flames begin to engulf the outside of my ship, I turn the radio off and lean back into my seat. There’s no reason to give him a false sense of hope.

Sorry buddy. You’re on your own.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

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