Bars on your windows, so old and ornate.
At your driveway’s end lies a chained and locked gate.
These both in attempt to circumvent fate.
Huddled … lonely inside your own tomb.
Your domicile morphs into some sort of womb.
You peek through the blinds hoping nothing might loom.
And the world spins around you, life goes on for most.
You should celebrate each day that comes with a toast.
But instead you hide praying you don’t give up the ghost.
The joke, Dear, is that there’s no hope for the dawn.
For wherever you are, Dear, death watches on.
Darknesses hollow whispers
death’s gripping fingers splayed
mind the path twisting, turns there
don’t divert well-lit ways
many drops of blood’s been spilt here
dagger’s sharpened, long caressed
sightless skulls aimed and leering
the spirit must of you assess
bodily theyr’e rendered lifeless
gather, on moonless eve
momentarily seek some solace
wander, they eternal grieve
seeking, mind if they see you
your retreat may never be
run swift rusting gates through
you again will not be free
darknesses claiming whisper
death’s fingers greedily splayed
mind the path, aims to trip dear
don’t divert from well-lit ways
Atomic Number 26
Joseph A. Pinto
And still you’ve no understanding of my stories lost before
you, words stripped of their most basic composition and
left to crumble in a fitting tribute of oxidation. You’ll always
view me that way, nothing more than your atomic number 26
while the greater part of me flakes bit by bit over time. I mourn the
days when my message rung true and beauty gleamed through my
imperfection. Now I go unnoticed, a broken tale; a gate
through which nothing can ever pass again. Such a wasted thing; left
here, your tainted breath corrupting every last line of my expression.
They say dreaming is dead, but I still dream. Clear skies. Cool breeze. A little sunlight on my face. I would like to walk somewhere with you, hand-in-hand, and not be alone. I choke to think of what could be: flesh and blood and bones that sing my name, my song, our song, rising into the wind. We should be so lucky.
They say dreaming is dead, but I still dream of a way out, an escape, a different life to that behind this iron gate; this tarnished prison, this nightmare in which we have trapped ourselves, furry with sharp-blood-rust.
The Other Side
There it is. I cannot believe it is still standing. My body goes numb as I stare at the place that for many years I called home. The same black iron fence surrounds the property like it did when I lived there. Now the paint is peeling away exposing the rust underneath; reopening old wounds. How many times did I grip the fence wishing, praying that I could someday be on the other side? And now that I am on the outside I don’t feel free. I am still trapped within its grasp behind the padlocked gate, never to reopen.
Been so many years, I don’t even remember the sun no more. I hear ‘em muttering, let ‘em talk. I’ll die in this box no doubt. I even heard they sealed it with the name. Trying to shame me I s’ppose. But I have my trophy; I pick my teeth with it every day. Wearin’ it down, but then it was so small to start with. Seems people dislike what I done, but that’s only ‘cause they don’t understan’ it. See, the sweet meat – it’s like veal, you gotta eat it when it’s supple, ‘fore it grows and loses the flavor.
What Lies Within
The rusted chain and lock cannot possibly hold this unholy gate in place much longer. Do I dare attempt to break the obstacles and venture within? I must; I have to know!
A well placed kick and the fragile metal breaks. I walk down the stone reinforced tunnel and get closer to the impenetrable darkness. The scent of sweet musk tickles my nostrils, and I smile.
“Lord Azazel, what you long for resides within.”
A torch is lit and I see my prize. Upon an altar she lies, and her glories call out to me.
She screams at my touch…
His to bring…
He looked at his charred body. The thugs had chained his security gate moments before they threw the Molotov cocktail through his window.
His fingers still gripped the old iron. The flesh was black like charcoal, and flaked away like the burned paint of the gate. Lips, hair, skin, and anything identifiable had been burned away, leaving a macabre grimace. Death had taken him hours ago.
Fury and lust for revenge damned his soul to this place like the chains had damned him to the fire. He was a wraith, and he welcomed the damnation. Hell was his to bring.
Claiming the Condemned
The end came faster than anyone anticipated and all the prophecies were wrong. It wasn’t failed science gone viral or a cleansing trial to better mankind; it was Hell claiming the condemned—every last one of us. It began with a tortuous plague the turned the sick into blood crazed cadavers. They were the lucky ones. They didn’t suffer the tenuous and futile existence that was always moments away from being torn into a million bite-sized morsels by rancid insatiable teeth. I was the last, eaten alive behind safe gates as I clung expectantly to my wife’s once still corpse.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent.
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Had it been the sun that peeled skin from his neck or the sheer ferocity of his nightmare?
Blistering splendor poured onto him from the unrelenting orb. Fire singed his eyes, shriveled his tongue—the blackened, useless slug lolled from his lips. His speech now eradicated, rendered to meaningless gestures from his festered hands. The sun seared his flesh, melted his legs down to dripping strands; mere bubbling pools of tissue in the ruined soles of his boots.
Every night, each dream, the heat only intensified.
He had been walking down a pebbled road, a silvery-sparkled stream beyond a thicket to his left. He could hear it—the stream, forming words that he could not, murmuring soft melodies into his steaming ears. Disgusted, he spat futilely; gory mucous dribbled down his chin. He wiped at it with a skinless forearm.
Every night, each dream, the anguish only escalated.
He had never seen a sky so blue. Cloudless and pure. He gritted his teeth. Upon the wind ancient legends croaked, low and throaty, while to his right bunnies romped through manicured fields. The sun cooked him, made his eyes bleed, and from his core ruptured an awful sort of churn. The sort he might have gotten eating roofing nails or coals from the bottom of his dead father’s grill.
In tonight’s nightmare, he stood in the midst of beauty. It utterly sickened him.
A terrible mewling. From the fields: bunnies eviscerated in pink geysers and in the middle of it all, the most splendid serpent he had ever seen.
The sun threw rage from its golden loft in the sky.
He screamed himself awake.
Did his flesh itch from want or the ghastliness of his nightmare?
A tap at the window. His body jerked; the steering wheel caught him in the ribs. Another tap, more forceful. A shimmering ray of light penetrated his window and diffused across his lap. For one fear slickened moment, he believed the sun had returned.
“Drop the window.”
Clumsily he swung his head, caught the glare of the flashlight. He swatted at ghost mosquitoes, then rolled the window down.
“What are you doing out here tonight?”
Instantly, he knew he had made a terrible mistake and slowly raised his hands to the steering wheel. “Resting, sir. Been on the road awhile. Needed a bit of a break.”
The flashlight glare jumped to the side. “Out of the car. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
He jiggled the door handle and stepped out, the chilled night air a balm to his flesh—yes, flesh remained; he could see that much now under the flashlight’s glow. Relieved, he pushed his hands upward to the somber stain of the sky. The scent of bunny entrails tickled his nostrils.
He heard a serpent’s hiss.
“Have you been drinking tonight, son?”
“No sir, not at all.”
He whirled expertly and with a ruthless chop to the throat crumpled the patrolman. A spinning kick to the temple knocked the man out cold—movements so heartless, so practiced, the officer never stood a chance. He seized the cop by his hair, dragged him from the shoulder of the road and down a slight ravine. Slipped the trench knife from his jeans and plunged it into the base of the cop’s skull. He felt the body shudder, finally go limp. A serpent hissed again in his head, and its tail rattled somewhere off in dreamy meadows. He withdrew his knife from the skull and rejoiced.
In due time, he would become a deity.
He usually lived in his car; a nomad’s life, one to which he had grown accustomed. However, tonight he chose a run-down inn with what cash he had; now he slept, tangled in stale motel sheets and food stained newspapers. The nightmares, they discovered him, slithered and stalked through his mind. Beneath the flames of his sins, he sweat.
Deep in the throes of subconsciousness, his mind again succumbed to dreamscape’s dark veil. In this dream, he rose from his cheap bed, abandoning his yellowed outline across the sheets. A pebbled road stretched below his feet; a silvery-scarred stream gurgled like the death rattle of the officer he had slain days before. A tranquil panorama of pastel greens and blues yawned above his head and higher still loomed the sun, ripping at his skin yet again.
He screamed and suddenly found himself back in bed. Across his foot lay a newspaper, the headline drenched in moonlight filtering through the window:
OFFICER MURDERED: AUTHORITIES LINK SLAYING TO SERPENT KILLER
He smiled proudly, but then something scraped against the wall.
Laughter. You fear Ra.
He scanned the room, but the voice slipped undiscovered into the gloom. “I don’t fear anyone. Don’t you know they call me Serpent Killer now?”
Rattling. From the tail of a snake. You cower beneath Ra. Yet you dare emulate me.
Sacrifice under Ra’s nose. Only then will you shed your flesh, become what you are meant to be. A threatening hiss, and then the moon retreated from the room, casting it into hellish darkness.
At last, he tore free from his latest nightmare. Flakes of skin dusted his pillow.
He dragged his newest kill deeper into the woods. Passed the makeshift grave he had dug for the cop. Remembrance churned through his head.
The nightmares had plagued him since childhood, severing the innocence from his heart and replacing it with a hollow angst. He knew not what to make of the visions that poisoned his reveries, only that they rendered him misplaced and abandoned. Soon, however, he came to relish the feeling.
Once just a greasy, awkward freshman, he first murdered in the bathroom of his school. It had been November; the sun long expired by late afternoon. He loitered in the library, thumbing through books about bygone legends, until his eyes finally met that of another solitary boy. Eventually, he followed the boy into the lavatory, snuck behind him while he pissed into the urinal and drove his head into the ceramic tile. There were no witnesses, and he certainly had never been suspected. The death tang still lingered upon his fingers later that evening. For a brief while, he had stemmed his anguish. But relief never lasted. So he killed again.
He snapped from his thoughts. Cut into his kill’s clothes with his knife, stripped them off. Then he flipped the headless body onto its back.
With each letting of blood, his nightmares had only worsened. With each letting of blood, the serpent had only spoken louder.
He plunged his knife into its breast and proceeded to engrave.
He worked his hand and wrist carefully; his art form more fluid now than in the past. Sweat dripped from his brow.
Do not fail me as others have before you. Ra’s rein must end.
The serpent, it never left him alone. When he closed his eyes, it coiled behind his lids. Secretly, he despised its embodiment of something far more unnatural than even himself. But he never lost the faith that if he could gain knowledge of the nightmares the serpent delivered, perhaps then he could pillage its power.
Claim it as his own.
We must cast this world into my glorious shadow.
He stepped back, studied his toil. Desecrated, the headless corpse lay strewn—a serpent dug into its flesh, twisting sternum to groin.
Sacrifice under Ra’s nose. Only then will you shed your flesh. The serpent’s words rattled through his skull and quite unexpectedly, he frowned.
He had pondered years over his dilemma: would liberation be granted under the sun, or would the moon ultimately conceal his damnation?
Under golden rays, he had feared for his safety, his very life. Yet did he not hide under the hem of night, seeking a coward’s comfort? Meticulously he had fashioned a secure existence, believing it would eventually lead to divinity. He ached to be worshiped, but how could he ever be glorified when the masses knew him only as Serpent Killer…and not the Serpent.
He had never slain in broad daylight. Only a god could be so brazen.
Tonight, he settled into the back seat of his car, behind an abandoned barn he knew to be undisturbed. By flashlight, he poured over the newspapers he had accumulated. The headlines swelled him with pride—the media’s copy dressed him as a rock star. Yes, the slayings had been linked, some twenty to thirty all told. Serpent Killer, they chanted his name. Serpent Killer. Still, it gnawed at the root of his soul.
Never the Serpent.
He gazed through the window at a sky black as the river Styx. After so many years, he had reached a decision. When he woke in the morning, he would shed his flesh.
The silvery-sparkled stream spoke; at least he thought it did. It gurgled over the rocks, over fallen limbs. Around the beaver’s dam it ebbed, and he loathed its song. The sun blew an inferno across the land. The thicket smoldered. Bunnies frolicked unaware.
Naked, he lay on a pebbled road and stared at the sun. It laughed at him, hurled boisterous flames that melted his toenails off. Nubs of white bone broke through his flesh. He screamed, but no one heard.
Butterflies swirled round his head, a myriad of colors, shapes. One landed upon the tip of his nose. He swatted at it but was too slow; it flitted back into its flock of comrades, their kaleidoscope of hues acid to his eyes. He realized he despised beauty, all beauty, and the nourishment its sun provided. Now he heard the fish in the stream laugh as well as the butterflies and the birds as they nestled in their boughs. The bunnies too, something of a high-pitched chortle—and the sun, its haughty giggling more than he could bear.
The serpent’s hiss hushed the land.
He tore free from the membranes of yet another nightmare, slick with fright. Golden fingers groped through the back window, scraping angry red welts across his legs. He recoiled from the sun and nearly scrambled into the front seat.
Then he saw them.
The little boy crossed the field, headed to the trees and the stream beyond. A fishing pole bounced along his shoulder. Close behind walked the boy’s father.
Shirtless, shoeless, he slipped from his car. Trench knife in hand. He stalked across the field, the grass beneath his feet uncomfortably sharp and hot, stewing his toes. Harder he pushed, springing smoothly from the ground the moment he touched down. With each predatory step, his confidence brimmed.
The scent of the father’s aftershave tickled his nose and the boy…he could already taste the boy’s blood.
Persistent in its melody, the stream disguised his footfall. A bunny bounded across the field, stopped and wiggled its nose. A butterfly fluttered about. The sun tattooed the top of his head; something flaked from his neck and between his shoulders. It spat its fury upon him, ignited a deep ache within the marrow of his bones. He ignored it all, fueled by the unknowing chatter between the father and his boy—and the dawning realization that soon he would be a deity.
Nothing would deny him.
Ten more yards. The father would then taste his blade. His eyes sparkled as he tightened his grip upon the knife.
Sacrifice under Ra’s nose. Only then will you shed your flesh.
A massive shadow shifted from under the canopy of trees ahead. His mind reeled, desperate to make sense of what had emerged. His legs buckled, and he tumbled forward. He managed to snare his prey’s foot and tripped the father to the ground.
He pounced upon the man and for a moment, he glimpsed his own bewildered reflection within his prey’s frightened eyes. One slash and his blade kissed the man’s throat.
He enjoyed the ghastly wheeze from the father’s gaping wound. Then he noticed the pus-bloated sores along his own arm, and a long shriek escaped his mouth.
From under the shadow of the trees, the boy halted and spun around. Staggering from the prone body of the father, he half ran, half limped toward the boy as the flesh separated from muscle in thin sheets from his limbs. He hissed even as glints of bone popped through the exposed areas.
Nothing would deny him. Not even the sun as it stripped free tissue and tendon.
He raised the trench knife above his head but it dropped from his grasp, fingers nothing more than charred bone. A numbness spread through his mind like morphine, yet the inferno within raged molten. His arms, twisted into jagged charcoaled spindles, burst into plumes of ash that clotted the air. The ruins of his legs littered the field, and he fell once more. He came to rest at the boy’s feet, a smoldering stump.
Behind the boy slithered a staggering mass. It rose and towered above them both—he thought it had existed only in the darkest cavities of his nightmares—but now realized how terribly wrong he had been. The serpent in all its glory: an enormous thing with unblinking elliptical eyes and a horrid, triangular head. It glowered, forked tongue flicking from its jaws.
His face slid off into the grass. His torso itched unbearably as scales erupted from beneath his exposed muscle.
He glanced upward, stared into the serpent’s morphing head. For a moment, he glimpsed his own features grotesquely bubbling under the serpent’s. Then the boy’s. The ancient abomination opened its mouth.
Sacrifice under Ra’s nose. Only then will you shed your flesh, become what you are meant to be.
The boy walked away and then returned with the trench knife in his young hand.
Only then did he comprehend that the god of his nightmares commanded not him but the boy. Finally did he realize he had been mislead. Abandoned once more. “Nooooo…”
Another child would be prepared as heir to Apep’s earthly throne and in turn suffer its depraved nightmares. Perhaps it would be this boy…this boy who possessed no fear of Ra.
The dawning complete; the only sure way to slay a serpent was to sever its head.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
A bowl filled with liquid; it had always been so.
The bowl looked as if it was heavy needing a substantial stand and yet it was suspended just feet above the foliage that caressed its underside.
It filled from an unknown spring, but how? My deductions and observations failed me.
I watched as creatures bounded to the bowl leaving refreshed and apparently younger.
A colorless butterfly dipped and as it rose it appeared as if the sun had painted each color filled line to perfection. It dripped feathery gold drops as it fluttered away.
The bowl filled instantly again with cool refreshing water.
A sweet voice would call to me.
“Drink”, it said. “Go ahead just one sip.”
Day after day as I took copious research notes, I heard it.
It was like a Siren beckoning me closer to the rocks of the unknown harbor.
I wore ear plugs that worked at first but slowly failed.
Loud music was drowned out by the sweet, melodic voice “DRINK.”
Then one day a promise carried over the hush.
A fawn dragged her lifeless, bloodied leg. She was almost spent. She left healed.
The flora clapped as the fawn departed.
“You will be more. Just ask one thing. It must give it to you.”
This bowl of unquenchable water was the fountain of youth, it was the healing pool of Bethesda, it dripped the gold and silver of Midas’ valued touch.
“I’m a scientist.” I growled. “I ‘m here for observation only.”
I heard a low laugh that withered with the night.
And then one day it happened, I fell. As I picked myself up, I noticed a thorn in my leg. Absentmindedly I removed the thorn. It was nothing.
Later that day, my leg began throbbing. I set down my notepad. My leg was three-times its normal size.
“Now you must use the waters.”
The once sweet voice was cruel.
“I cannot!” I struggled to project resolve.
“Then you will die.”
Stubbornly, I dragged my leg about.
I don’t know how many days I did this.
I held my head that was growing fuzzy in hands I could not feel.
I knew I would never get out alive.
“What must I do?” I wailed.
I hobbled closer to the bowl than I had ever dared.
A hush covered the forest. It was as if nature waited.
I looked about it and then I looked in the waters.
A face stared back at me.
It was death loosely hanging over bones that once resembled a face.
“Is that me?” I trembled at the thought.
I dipped my head into the bowl.
“Heal me from this poisonous death,” I begged
I looked at the bowl as it refilled.
Moisture dripped from my face.
I put out my hand to catch the drops.
It was blood – my blood.
“I now have what I have needed for eons.”
“Human blood – fool!”
It ran freely. I could not stop my life dripping from my pores.
“Now you see what you can do with this curse.” The once sweet voice had a different tone. Strong, more than human and then it was gone.
I felt cold and alone.
I could no longer feel my legs or my arms. I felt so heavy.
I looked up into a concave reality.
I had become the bowl.
Cursed to quench but never have my thirst quenched.
To heal and never be healed unless it was at the sake of another poor fool.
~ Leslie Moon
© Copyright 2014 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
Cars stream past the service station. From his seat at the window, Richard has a clear view of the car park and the road beyond. It is not much of a view but it is still preferable to the sight that greets him on his plate: a limp, Full English fry-up swimming in ketchup and grease. He is not an enthusiastic diner, unless he counts his evening cigarette as some sort of nourishment, but he can’t remember when he last ate, so he forces the food down. There is coffee, at least. Black, without sugar. Mopping up some of the ketchup with a slice of toast he returns his attention to the road.
Dusk burns in the distance, illuminating every smear on the restaurant window. Staring through the dust into the horizon, he entertains the thought of stepping into its fire and being consumed; a blazing end to an unremarkable life.
He has not always felt this way. For years the portraits in his studio kept him sane; friends, family, company in the night when it grew dark and he had no one to talk to, or dream of, except those whom he had brought to life with watercolour. Fondly he remembers Friedrich and his expecting wife, little Felix who dreamed of one day flying with the birds, old Joseph, who gazed back at him so openly from his canvas. When he smiled, he fancied the portraits smiled back at him. If he joked, they laughed, their faces swimming like disturbed water. Looking into their eyes, he felt they knew him, or at least understood who he was.
His heart pounds as he relives the moment that he realised they were flawed. He had loved his portraits desperately, but that love had blinded him to their dishonesty. He had only to walk down the street, to sit on a bench and watch the people passing by, to see that his paintings were nothing like those people. It was a love affair with art, with life; the greatest there could be. Then the affair was over and he was alone; the kind of aloneness that came with being surrounded by faces he no longer knew or loved. With his new perspective he had painted other things. Pictures that better reflected the world as he saw it. Wives became wolves, their female snouts shining wet in the moonlight. Schoolboys grew beaks, black marble eyes and feathered wings. Joseph transformed; smudged mouth screaming silently while cavernous holes where eyes should have been watched him from under their brow. Skeletal things crawled through thin alleys drowned in darkness. Sometimes stars filled the sky; tiny lights like bullet holes bleeding in the night.
He stays sitting by the restaurant window until the sun dies. When it hovers on the horizon, he slides from his seat. Service-station chatter fills his ears, then the automatic doors sweep apart to let him pass and he is outside, with nothing but the roar of traffic and the cool breeze against his face. He swallows the lump that is settling in his throat. Bitter grinds linger in his mouth.
It is not a real horizon. Just a road filled with cars capturing the last of the day’s light in their windscreens and on their metallic hulls. He can’t remember the last time he saw a horizon that was not a tower block, a building roof, a stretch of road just like this one. Like the amphitheatres of old, the ancient myths, the worldly heritage he had studied as a young man, those horizons are lost now. Like the paintings in his studio, they mean nothing.
At the roadside he feels the rush of speeding cars against his face. He might be standing at a precipice; an abyss made of shining metal, glass and stinking rubber beyond which lies nothing except the empty sky. He has but to step forward and it will all end.
He thinks about several things, in that moment. He remembers what it means to love the world, and to hate it. He remembers sitting on a bench, the day everything changed, and watching as a homeless man and his dog begged for food. More than anything else, he remembers his last painting.
In the painting, beige skies stretched above dark soil scattered with sketchy ruins; the remains of a nameless city reduced to matchsticks. There were shapes in the ruins, which might have been toppled columns, or the black charcoal bones of a world burned. A number of thin figures picked their way through the gutters. Dozens more lay like rag-dolls in the ruins and underneath them. Their faces were grinning bovine skulls.
A single figure stood in the foreground. It was pale, the watery shadow of a classical statue, except for the dark mass of serpents on its head. Slender limbs stretched into the sky, entangled in the blur of black snakes so that the figure seemed to be falling. Its mouth was a silent circle sunk into its face above which two eyes stared without seeing into the sky.
When the painting was finished, he slept. On waking, he drank; vodka over some ice. Then he set fire to the studio. The flames took to the artwork quickly. He remained watching for as long as possible, petrified, while the firelight gave life, movement, light to the darkness he had captured in watercolour. In those last seconds, the painted city had really burned. Medusa herself moved in death, swaying but never falling as the canvas around her crinkled, became black. He can still hear her roar with the voice of fire. Then he had left and driven here.
He has waited all day at the service station for dusk, and a glimpse of the abyss beyond. He would have waited a lifetime, if he had to. He walks over to the easel, set up in the car park when he arrived this morning.
The world is dark and full of fear. A thousand times a thousand people live and breathe pain each day. This is their legacy; this is what it means to be alive now, the ugly truth revealed in a dozen watercolours. But as his studio burned, he had watched that pain burn away, and as it burned, it sang. It shone. It danced with life, even as the canvasses on which it was shown shrivelled and died. Ugliness had been made into ash, but before it was ash he saw beauty, and from those ashes he will see beauty again, the world resurrected in the exact moment it dies each day; dusk blazing in windscreens and on car bonnets.
He begins to paint.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2014 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.
“Do you want to see what I found?”
Marybeth was about to grab the laundry out of the washing machine – it had just turned off with a hard thunk – when the plumber called out to her.
No, not really, she thought, rolling her eyes and sauntering to the master bath. All I want to do is take a shower without being calf-deep in water. The skinny man was on his knees, chest pressed against the edge of the tub. She was grateful there was no sign of the infamous plumber’s crack. He smelled like grease and damp towels.
“It’s no wonder the water wouldn’t flow,” he said, turning to face her. Elvis would have been proud of the man’s mutton chops. One of his front teeth was gold, the one next to it silver. She jumped back a step when she saw the dead animal dangling from his fingers.
“Oh my God! How the hell did a rat get in the drain?” she shouted, cringing as the body spun lazily.
The plumber smiled. “That’s no rat. Nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a clump of hair and soap and shampoo. Kinda looks like a rat, though, doesn’t it? I pull them out all the time, but this one is especially big. You have daughters?”
She stared at him quizzically. “Yes, I do. How would you know?”
“House full of girls means a lot of long hair going down the drain. It builds up over time until you get something like this.” He tossed the hair-rat into the small plastic waste pail by the toilet. It made a squishing noise when it hit the bottom. Oh crap, that’s disgusting. Just keep cool. It’s not a rat. It’s just hair. Rats were high on her weakness list.
He kept on talking, oblivious to the shade of green she’d turned. “The best way to avoid this happening in the future is by using a few ounces of prevention.” He opened his massive toolbox, rooting around, making rough grunts and sighs.
“Here it is.” He held a brown bottle of liquid drain cleaner. The plumber shook it and unscrewed the cap.
“We tried that but it wouldn’t work,” Marybeth said.
“That’s because you waited too long. This stuff wasn’t going to get past that,” he said, tilting his head toward the garbage. Marybeth felt her bile start to resurface. “You gotta get to it earlier, clean it out at the source.”
Marybeth leaned against the doorframe. “Is there any brand you recommend?” Plumbers don’t come cheap. If all it takes is a few bottles of that stuff to avoid overpaying old mutton chops, she was in.
He repositioned himself so he was now sitting on the edge of the tub. The armpits of his blue shirt were dark with crescent moons of sweat. “Just make sure you get the name brand stuff. The knock-offs don’t eat the hair away near as well.”
She nodded. “Got it. Name brands. Don’t wait for the drain to get bad before I use it. You don’t need to pour that now, do you? I mean, since you just cleared everything out.”
The plumber nodded. “It’s best I show you how to use it.”
Great. I’m sure he’ll charge me ten times what that bottle is worth in the friggin’ supermarket. Does he think I’m an idiot? Open bottle, pour down drain, don’t get any on your skin. Jesus.
He waved her closer. “Come on, I don’t bite. There’s a trick to pouring so you don’t get any splashback.”
Marybeth resigned herself to his demonstration. Hemming and hawing would only keep him in her bathroom longer. She stood next to him, smelling his coffee and cigarette breath.
“Like I said, you gotta get it at the source.”
With whip-like speed, he lashed out and wrapped his fingers in her hair. “Ouch! What the hell are you doing?” Marybeth screamed.
The plumber smiled with uneven, jaundiced teeth. “Gotta burn it at the source.”
She tried to scream but he clamped a greasy hand over her mouth. With the other, he tipped the bottle over her head. At first, the gelatinous goop felt cold, like chilled pudding.
And then the fires began. Shocked with white-hot agony, she kicked him in the balls and pushed him in the chest with both hands. The man tipped over the tub, the back of his head ripping the water spout from the wall. “You goddamn bitch!” he shouted, cradling his head with his hand, his palm coming back slick and red.
Marybeth ran to the sink, spinning the cold water handle, splashing as much as she could onto her head, careful not to get any of the fluid in her eyes or face. It felt like battery acid eating away at her scalp. The stench of her disintegrating hair and scalp made her stomach lurch.
Something heavy smashed against the back of her legs, dropping her to her knees, her chin clanging on the sink’s edge. The plumber held the lid to the toilet tank. His legs were wobbly from the blow to his head.
“You fucker!” Marybeth shrieked. She grabbed her husband’s toothbrush, leaping to her feet and driving it into his eye. The man staggered against the shower wall, the wet gore of his eye leaking over the brush.
Marybeth’s cheek sizzled as the drain cleaner dripped past her hairline. The plumber fell into the tub, yowling like a deaf cat. “Is this the source?” she snarled, prying the heavy ceramic lid from his hands. He couldn’t hear a word, the pain was so excruciating.
With a mad grunt, Marybeth crashed the lid into and through the base of his nose. The plumbers extremities shuddered for a few seconds, then went still.
The lid keranged against the tile floor. Marybeth fumbled in the medicine cabinet until she found the shears. Working through searing pain, she shaved the hair from her head. When that was done, she ran water over her scalded flesh, crying. She dried her head carefully, then applied and entire tube of bacitracin to her head and face. She looked like a carnival freak. Behold, the Lizard Woman, even fire couldn’t kill her!
She looked at the plumber’s body, heard the trickle of his blood going down the now-clear drain. His hair would do.
After a quick trip to the basement for her special toolbox, she removed his scalp with practiced ease. She placed the wet flap of flesh and hair in the sealed container she used for all of her trophies.
“Have to be more proactive with the drains,” she said, staring at the plumber’s scalp. She’d leave the body for her husband when he came home. Disposal was his specialty. She was just a trophy hunter.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2014 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.
The house was always cold. It didn’t matter what the temperature said on the thermostat. Troy begrudgingly took his coat off and put it away. For years he had assumed his house was simply cold, but it had been getting worse over time. Now he knew why.
Floor boards moaned and squeaked as he walked down the hall. He could hear noises from the boy’s room. It sounded like the television as usual. Troy slowed his pace until he stood outside of their closed door. He could hear the chilling voice in the movie perfectly.
“Your mother is in here, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it.”
He was about to knock on the door when Mary called to him as she walked through the front door. “Troy, are you home?”
He went to her and pulled her into the kitchen. “Mary, we need to talk about the boys. I think they’re getting mixed up in something horrible.”
Troy pulled a handful of pages out of his case and placed them on the granite counter top. “Do you know how many times they’ve seen that movie in there? Do we know what else they do while we are at work? Carson is only 9 and Scott is 7 for hell’s sake!”
Mary looked at him skeptically. “Troy, they are just boys watching movies. What harm can come of that? I think you are blowing this out of proportion.”
“Oh yeah?” Troy asked as he pointed to his papers. “I’ve spent the past few weeks reading and studying at work. ‘Talk of the Devil and he is presently at your elbow.’ Have you ever heard that expression?”
“No I haven’t,” replied Mary with growing concern.
“It’s an old English proverb. Did you know that there are similar phrases in over 50 different cultures? This shit is real, and I think the boys are inviting the devil into our home.”
Mary picked up the papers and glanced through them. “Just what are you saying, Troy?”
“Have you taken a good look at them lately?” He asked. “Have you heard them talk? Watched them eat? I’ve looked at dozens of cases of possession and exorcism, and I’m telling you that we have a problem. If you don’t call a priest, then I will.”
Mary placed a hand on Troy’s shoulder. “I can’t stand to see the family torn apart like this. There is a group of priests that have been close to my family for generations. I’ll call them.”
Troy sat down as Mary walked away and talked in hushed tones on her cell phone. He could only hear bits and pieces of her side of the conversation.
“… so tired of this.”
“… need this exorcism so we can be a family again.”
“Come tonight. Bring them all.”
Mary finished the call and stepped back into the kitchen. “They will be here tonight.”
Troy grabbed her hand, surprised at how quickly she believed what he had been talking about. “I’m so glad. I didn’t know if you were going to believe me or not.”
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay,” she said as she placed a hand on his chest and traced wary circles around the crucifix under his shirt.
He had fallen asleep on the couch. Troy opened his eyes and couldn’t see. It was completely dark. Fear pressed him against the soft couch. Strange sounds and hushed whispers had woken him up. “Mary?” he called out.
There was no response. He started to see faint outlines of furniture when he heard the footsteps. Mary came around the corner with a candle in her hand. “Ah, you woke up. The power has been out for a while so I let you sleep. It’s sure nice to see you boys together,” she said with a smile.
Troy turned his head and jumped off the couch. Scott and Carson had been sitting on either side of him the whole time. They sat on the couch and looked at him with vacant eyes. Carson looked like he was barely breathing. His lips were torn and bleeding, and a ghastly smile threatened to tear his lips even farther.
Scott sat on the other side of the couch and simply looked at his father. The little 7 year-old’s chest moved quickly as if the boy were hyperventilating. Scott’s face was as blank as his eyes.
“What about the priests?” asked Troy as he stood next to Mary.
“They should be here any time. I want you to sit down in this chair and try to relax, okay? It will be okay soon enough.”
Troy sat in the chair across from his boys. Mary turned around and walked down the hall, casting the room into darkness. Troy tried to see his boys through the darkness. He gripped the edge of the chair as he hissed a threat to whatever had possessed his children. “The exorcists are coming for you.”
“They are already here,” Carson said in a voice that wasn’t his. “We are ready for the exorcism, Troy. Are you?”
The front door opened and people wearing long black robes came into the house. Troy relaxed a little as he watched the hooded priests carry in various items. A few of the priests lit large, white candles and began to place them around the room. Carson and Scott just looked at Troy from the couch. Their faces occasionally flashed with the ugly images of the heinous things inside of them.
Priests positioned themselves around the room. Troy felt the tension build when the priests started to chant. The temperature of the room plummeted as Carson began to speak in another language.
Troy stood up and yelled. “Shut up and get out of my boys!”
Scott got off the couch and held up a small hand. Everything in the room became quiet. Scott looked at Troy and an ugly sneer spread across the small boy’s face. “Don’t interrupt the exorcism.”
Troy was confused. It was as if the demons wanted the exorcism. Deep laughter rolled out of Scott’s little mouth and shook the walls of the house. “Yes, we want this exorcism. But it’s not the kind of exorcism you are thinking of.”
Mary came around the corner. She was wearing black robes. “The boys need a father that can accept his unique role, Troy. This exorcism was never for the boys. It’s for you.”
Troy looked around the room. The priests each pulled off their hoods, revealing beautiful and grotesque masks. The white candles burned, showing the black wax underneath the white façade. The horror of it all was too much to understand.
“Let’s begin,” said Scott. The little boy stepped in front of his dad. “Sit,” he commanded in an infernal voice.
Troy sat in the chair and grabbed the crucifix under his shirt. Mary flinched and looked worriedly at her sons. Scott chuckled before he spoke to his father. “That artifact only works for those with faith. Let me show you something easier to believe in.”
The priests began to chant again. “Veni, omnipotens aeternae diabolus.”
Troy’s wife stepped closer and spoke softly. “Don’t fight it, Troy.”
“Agios o Satanas,” chanted the priests.
Carson stepped closer to his dad. His voice returned to normal as he pleaded. “Please, dad, join us.”
Troy was sweating, but his crucifix felt cold in his tight grip. He watched as his little Scott held out his hands. The priests around the room started to chant more quietly. Doubts festered in his mind. He should be with his family. Scott’s eyes turned completely black as he spoke in a loud, demonic voice.
“Dies irae, sovlet saeclum in favilla.”
Carson stood next to his father and translated. “The Day of Wrath, will desolve the world in ashes.”
Troy felt conflicted as he listened to his sons.
“Teste cecidurent, quantos tremor est futures, quando Vindex est venturus.”
Carson translated again. “As foretold by the Fallen, how many tremors will there be when the Defender will come?”
Scott’s voice became thunderous and deep. “Tui sunt caeli et terra.”
“Yours are the heavens and the earth.”
Troy was in a daze. His mind had grown cloudy. He needed a sign to tell him what to do.
“Oriens splendor lucis aeternae, Lucifer veni, illumine sedentes in tenebris!” screamed Scott.
Carson took out a knife and cut his palm, then spread the blood on his father’s face as he translated again. “East of eternal light, come Lucifer, illuminate the dark!”
Unlit candles that had been placed all over the room burst to life, their flames a deep purple. Scott put his hands down and looked at his father. His voice echoed across the room and the walls shook again. “Is that enough of a sign?”
Most of Troy was ready to give in, ready for peace, ready to do what needed to be done to have his family back. But a small part of him stood relatively firm. He couldn’t do it while he had even of a sliver of faith. Troy shook his head wearily.
Carson and Scott began to speak in unison, the demonic and false cherubic voices sounded like a choir of the damned. Troy closed his eyes and began to squeeze his crucifix as he heard and felt what his boys were saying.
“Open to us, accept what we offer.”
Troy squeezed harder, unsure of what he wanted, but aware that he had made up his mind. He pushed his fury into his trembling hand. The boy’s voices filled the house. “As this emblem is changed…”
Silence filled the room. There was no movement. If felt like he was falling through a dark hole. A single voice spoke clearly.
“… etiam muta cor meum.”
It had been his voice. He spoke those words. He knew those words, and he translated them himself with a hoarse whisper. “… so change my heart.”
Troy lifted his head and looked at his wife and children. They had never looked so perfect. Troy stood up, pulled the broken cross off his neck and embraced his new family.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2014 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
The musty basement hummed with the soft crackle of static. A police band radio purred from a small shelf above the heavily used utility sink. It cast an orange glow across the floor, highlighting an array of long forgotten paint cans and chemical jugs under the rickety wooden stairs.
A middle-aged man, sturdy but pudgy around the middle, stood at the sink listening with a cocked head.
“Quiet day on the scanner, a rare one indeed.”
He tossed a dirty screwdriver into the sink and walked the length of the room. The radio’s orange glow succumbed to darkness as he went, but he didn’t slow or stumble. He knew this room well. Much of his time over the last few years was spent in this basement working the labors of his passion, like he was right now. He approached the edge of the harsh white light pouring down from the fluorescent bulb affixed over his work area. Pausing there, on the fringe—the muddled line between light and dark—he continued speaking.
“Of course,” he said, “It’s probably just the calm before the storm—robberies being planned, atrocities like murder and rape taking place with their victims yet unable to call for help, or witnesses still on their way to their horrific discovery.”
He stepped into the light and over to his tool bench along the wall. With slow, deliberate movements he picked up a pair of slip-joint pliers. He admired them in the glow—their metal edges glinting as they turned between his fingers.
“And that means… no one is coming to save you for quite some time.”
A man bound to a chair before him started to scream again. Like before, the gag and the thick plaster walls absorbed the noise. The captive struggled against his layered binding of duct tape and zip ties, but to no avail. Sweat and blood sprayed out from his flaring nostrils with the hastened rhythm of his breaths.
“Come on now, Robinson. You know that’s a useless waste of energy.”
The captor stepped toward his victim and tapped the man’s metal badge with the pliers. “Speaking of cops wasting energy, shall we discuss what brought us here?”
Officer Robinson ceased fighting and listened.
“Your career was a waste. How many people did you save? How many did you condemn? The scales are tipped too far to the latter, aren’t they? Is that what you call justice?”
No reply came except for the sharp hiss of Robinson’s inhalations.
The man slapped his victim and ripped out the gag. “You might want to join the conversation—you’re on trial here.”
Robinson coughed and filled his lungs. His chest shuttered, his words stumbling free between gasps. “I don’t make the laws. Justice is not always black and white. You know that.”
“Yes. Yes I do. But please, elaborate. Are you claiming that your unjust actions were out of your control?”
“Look, if you let me go now, we’ll work out a deal—forget the whole thing.”
His expression soured from light amusement to rage and he slugged the officer in the jaw. “You didn’t let them go. Those women didn’t get a deal.”
Robinson spat blood and tooth fragments onto the floor. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t know about them… that I was ignorant? Or, did you just assume I was paid to look the other way like everyone else?”
The cop’s eyes widened. “H-how did you find out?”
He punched Robinson again.
“Lest you forget, I was a cop longer than you. It wasn’t too difficult to follow the fragmented facts of your cover up.”
“Andy. Andy, listen. I was forced to ride along, to help—” Officer Robinson stopped rambling when he noticed his captor moving in with the pliers.
After a few minutes of work, relishing the man’s screams in his ear, William Andrews stepped back and eyed the teeth in his hand. “You really need to brush better… well, at least with the few you’ve got left. And, don’t call me Andy, I hate that.”
Blood dripped from Robinson’s ruined mouth, his chin resting on his chest as he whimpered. While Andrews waited for his captive to regain a talking mood, he walked back to the sink, tossed in the pliers, and washed his hands.
Drying off with a small towel, he leaned against the utility sink.
“Those women didn’t have a choice in what was done to them. You had a choice. More than that, you had a responsibility to serve and protect.”
“They were victims of circumstance,” Robinson said, mumbling, slurring from too much exposed gum and not enough teeth. “Witnesses that had to be silenced.”
“Corruption begets corruption.” Andrews shook his head. “I get it, you guys are the victims, right? You were working within the confines of a corrupt system, trying to build cases, but the money and power decided all. Clean cases got tossed because bribes came down from on high and the political red tape handcuffed you at every turn. You joined the force to make a difference, to help people, but the truth of life was suffocating… the truth that money is power and a great amount of money corrupts greatly. It weighed you down, sucked you in. And, just like quicksand, the more you struggled the deeper you sunk. I get it. I do. It’s exactly why I retired early.”
Robinson lifted his head. Peering through the darkness, he watched his ex-partner with raised brows of hope. They were on common ground—maybe an understanding could be reached.
“But, don’t delude yourself,” Andrews continued. “You always have a choice. I made a choice. I chose to leave the corruption behind and work in my own system. You and your conspirators chose to conform, to alter your sense of morality to fit your environment. You chose to sink.”
The radio’s static hum broke into a flurry of voices trading information.
11-99, Code 3, Citizen reporting officer down at rear of 4217 Oak Valley Road in Glennville.
62 in route, five minutes south.
Severe injuries, no pulse. No witnesses known, body might have been dumped. Medical in route.
Andrews smiled. “Sounds like they just found one of your conspirators. After losing a few teeth himself, Detective Sloan talked quite a bit about you and your adventures together.”
Turning to head back to his project, Andrews noticed something in the orange glow. He walked over to the stairs and picked up a can of Turpentine. Inspecting it, he muttered to himself, “Looks like it was meant to be.”
As Andrews reentered the work area, the tin in his hand flashed under the harsh light. Recognition hit the captive cop as if Andrews slugged him again. He jerked in the chair with wild eyes leaping back and forth between the can and the man holding it.
“Whoa, hang on a minute. Just hear me out, please.”
Andrews gestured with an upturned hand. “Continue.”
“You—You were right.” Robinson said, speaking too fast, his words bumping into each other. “I’m a product of my environment, but I made mistake after mistake, bad choices. But, it began with blackmail. The only choice I had was to play along or lose my job and serve jail time. After the first few incidents, I got numb to right and wrong. Then, taking and covering up became habit. I was wrong. I’m sorry!”
Andrews put down the can. “It takes a real man to admit he’s wrong. I think you’ve made some progress here today.”
In a great shuddering exhale, Robinson sighed.
“But,” Andrews continued. “There’s something you said that’s been bugging me.”
The chair creaked as the bound cop tensed.
“Just a few minutes ago you said those women were simply witnesses that had to be silenced. If that’s true, then why did the real autopsy report show that they were raped and tortured before a sloppy attempt was made to hide their identities through pulling out all their teeth and burning them alive?”
“That’s above and beyond brutality, sadism, a psychopathic lack of compassion. Those are traits bonded to the soul not born of your environment. Of course, there are rare exceptions, such as a crime of passion where emotional trauma trumps morality.”
Andrews produced a utility knife from his pocket and stepped closer to Robinson.
“Here’s a bit of suffocating truth for you: those witnesses you silenced two years ago were my sisters and you’re about to suffer a fate far worse than theirs.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
“Pete, you always were an asshole!” We all started laughing. “The only reason they put you in green was because they were out of shit-stain brown.” Brunt of the joke or not, Pete pretended to fuck his M-16 and laughed harder than the rest of us.
The canteen made another round; it didn’t quench my thirst, but it sure as shit eased my mind. This fucking place was a hell hole dug straight out of the devil’s ass itself. Me, Pete, the whole squad – we were tight. We’d hit the bush together and somehow managed to survive the last seven months. It pissed off some of the other guys but screw them, let them find someone else to cover their backs. We didn’t need some FNG making expectants out of us – fuck that.
It’d been days since we’d done anything but hang around our LZ and shoot the shit, but sand bags and make-shift bunkers weren’t the worst things out here; any grunt would testify to that.
We were making so much noise, we’d drawn the Sarge’s attention; I could see him making his way over. “So fellas, you having a good time?” The cheshire grin on his face was enough to tell us the shit was about to fly, and it was coming our way, but we were so piss-ass drunk no one gave a crap.
“Any of you jerk-offs wanna tell me why Pete here, who is supposed to be on the greenline, is laying on the ground humping his gun like his wife just traded up for a new and improved cooch?”
I swear Pete must’a pissed himself he was cracking-up so hard. He snatched the canteen from Rog and held it up to the Sarge, barely able to get his words out. “Here, this’ll tell ya. Come on, Sarge, have a nip. Besides, it’s been quiet for days. O’Boyle’s got it. The little bastard has this sixth sense or something, he can fucking smell Charlie coming.” We all started laughing again, a little more reserved this time.
The Sarge stared down at Pete for a moment, then his eyes flicked to me like it was my job to keep him in line. I was still snickering, but doing my best to hide it. The Sarge, he was one of us; I could see he was making up his mind between what he should do and what he wanted to do. Taking a long drag on my smoke, I decided to back Pete up. “Go on, Sarge, have a sip. Ain’t crap been happening around here since forever. No harm in Pete having a little break.” Squinting up at him, I blew out a stream of smoke and waited while he stared back.
Reaching out, he snatched the canteen Pete was barely holding steady and crouched down to join us. After a long hard pull, and sucking in some serious air to cool his lungs, he shoved the canteen back into Pete’s hands. “Good thing I didn’t see you assholes fucking around. Especially this one who’s supposed to be…”
“Incoming!” Someone screamed.
The first sound I heard was the whup-whup of its wings; I could feel the pressure of the air pressing down upon me as the beast beat a steady rhythm above. I was being dragged toward it, dragged through a field of claws that scraped at my skin, tore at my clothes, ripped apart my mind. Whatever was dragging me had a tight hold on my pack and was grunting while it ran in a lumbering lurch. Fleshed in red, with pieces of luminous crystal protruding from its bark-like skin, something about it seemed familiar, but I couldn’t imagine why.
“Pete! Pete, where the fuck are you?” I screamed. It hissed in a language I didn’t understand, waved its free arm while shaking its head. I shrieked for Pete again, but the whup-whup of thrashed air was my only answer.
As we drew closer, other creatures rushed from the dragon’s gaping maw, they hefted its green tongue, carried it aloft.
The thing dragging me halted. The others tried to grab me with their talons, lift me onto the dragon’s tongue. In my mind, I struggled, the entire time the whup-whup of the wings blinded me with coarse pellets carried on its breath. I was in the midst of an inferno. As I looked around, I saw flames licking the edges of this new hell. The dragon fought its foe with mighty plumes of spray. The others rolled my limp form onto its side. The familiar one spoke, a glistening madness in its eyes as I rolled backward by no choice of my own and landed on the wyvern’s tongue that had slithered beneath me.
Its rasping texture stung my flesh as it tasted my blood, molded to my form, began drawing me toward its maw. The beast’s minions trotted alongside, assisting the tongue as it serpentined its way back to its host. The closer we drew, the fouler the dragon’s breath became, until finally I was consumed through the yawning rift.
The beast took to the air. I could feel the rock and sway from within the cavern of its gullet. More creatures waited there; they began to pull me apart. They delved with their translucent hands into my gut, only to emerge covered in blood. I fought them with what will I had, but it was futile – one of their young smothered my face pulsing noxious fumes into my lungs. When eventually they finished, all but one sat in stony silence. The attending creature looked down at me and spoke through some odd contraption it wore on its glistening face. It grasped my hand, spoke with a force I couldn’t deny, but force or not, I didn’t understand its words. My head lulled to the side drawn by the ever present whup-whup of the air as the wings continued to beat. As I began to lose consciousness, I saw a slit in its scales; an opening. With all that was left in me, I flung myself toward the fissure. The creature lost its grip upon my hand.
As darkness stole over me, my final sensation was one of falling.
I woke splayed awkwardly on a thin membrane that stretched as far as my eye could see. Disoriented at first, I realized there was no sound in this new place. I screamed; nothing echoed back to me, nothing but the sound within my own head. I stood and realized I was tethered to something, but I couldn’t see what. A rope protruded from my midsection. When I grasped it, I felt an overwhelming pain; it was slick and streaked my hand with filth. Quickly, I released it.
I began to walk on unsteady legs; the tether seemed endless and I walked for hours. The membrane beneath my naked feet bounced in concert with each step I took. There was a strange tangerine light here, one that shone brighter on the horizon. I traveled toward it, but it seemed the further I walked, the further away it continually became. My foot hooked on something and I stumbled. Looking down, I saw an arm. Startled, I fell backwards and landed with a soft pwoof on the surface – the first sound I’d heard since I’d arrived here. Looking around me, I could see the membrane was littered with debris, most of it human offal and limbs. How did I not see any of this before? How had I wandered unhindered for so long without stumbling until now?
I kneeled, wobbling as I did so, on the taut surface. I inspected the arm that had initially tripped me. Reaching out, I grasped it. There was a wedding ring on its third finger; it was clad in blood drenched fatigues. I ripped at the fabric like a madman until I finally uncovered the forearm. And there, where I had seen it so many times before, was the name of Pete’s son tattooed on the baby rattle he’d had inked on him the day his wife had given birth to their first and only child back in the real world. I began searching through the remainder of the wreckage. Bits and pieces identifiable; a magazine, shell casings, glasses, boots – photographs. More things than I cared to recognize. Still holding Pete’s arm, I crouched forward and wailed in despair and rage. This time the sound split the air as it slammed its way through this world, shattering the silence.
I reached down with my free hand and yanked on my tether – no not my tether, my umbilical, and pulled as hard as I could.
A harsh bright light blinded me as my hearing rushed back in a nauseating wave. I found myself in a field tent on an operating table.
“What the fuck?” I barely managed.
“Stay calm, you’re gonna be okay,” I began to fight. “No! Just try to stay calm. Goddamn it, don’t struggle. Where’s the fucking dope guy! Get him under, get him under now – we’re gonna fucking lose this one!”
Blackness again. Cradling Pete’s arm in my own, I sat, I cried. I screamed my rage. I tried to rip the umbilical from my gut. I lay down and gave up.
I didn’t want to wake up; I wanted to sleep – like Pete. Sleep and never wake again. Opening my eyes, I lifted my head to look around. I realized I wasn’t on the OR table this time, I was in a quiet, sedate ICU ward. Most of the other soldiers were either sleeping or staring blankly off into space. I tried to call for help – a doctor, nurse, anybody, but barely made a sound. What little strength I had ebbed away and my head fell back to the pillow. Luckily an orderly was walking by and noticed the movement.
He smiled and came around the side of the bed to lean on the rail. “Hey man, good to see you up! You was out for a long time, wasn’t sure you was gonna wake – no matter what the doc said. Here, lemme get you some ice…”
“Wait,” I managed to rasp as my hand wrapped around his forearm. He looked down at it, then back to my face.
“Nah, man – don’t try to talk or move,” he said as he pried my grip loose.
After returning with the cup of ice chips, he pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. My eyes never left him.
“You been out for what seems like forever, man. They did a shit load of surgery putting your insides back together, both in the field and here. It was touch and go for a while. You know where you at? Shit, you at Ben Hoa Airbase, man.” He slid the first ice chip into my mouth.
“My insides?” I croaked hoarsely.
“Yeah, man. You big talk ‘round here. They didn’t think you was gonna make it. You was ripped up so bad, but here you are; breathin, talkin, eatin ice. Goddamn if modern medicine ain’t something else. You know what I’m sayin.” Another sliver of ice slipped between my lips.
“What about Pete?” I forced myself to ask.
“Pete? I don’t know nothin ‘bout Pete. Was he in your squad? If he was, he didn’t make it – sorry man. You the only one that came out of that mess alive. They say some Sergeant died haulin you to that Huey. There’s somethin I don’t get, why’d you guys abandon the line knowing your LZ was hot?” Another sliver of ice.
“What do you mean hot?” I choked on spittle. When the racking cough stopped and I could breath past the pain, I pressed, “What do you mean hot? Our LZ was dead quiet, nothing for days in the boonies around us.”
More fucking ice. If I could have moved my arm, I would have ripped his throat out.
“Look man, I got no idea what you guys was told. The official word is there was some major crap goin down ’round you,” he inched closer. “But look, I’m gonna tell you somethin you not supposed to know. And maybe I’m not supposed to know it neither, but ’round here, ya hear things. Maybe it’ll help you come to terms with all this shit, maybe not, what the fuck do I know, right?” He cupped his free hand around my ear and whispered, then pulled back flicking what I thought was a green tongue across his lips before smiling again. As my eyes shot back to his, flame reflected in them.
“Rumors, man. I hear rumors. But listen, I’ll come back later; check on you. You hang in there, a’right. I’m countin on you.” And with that he stood, tightened the leather strap around my wrist and walked away whistling softly to himself.
It took a moment for what he’d said to sink in, and when it did, I began to thrash against the restraints. I stared wide eyed and half crazed with the knowledge he’d given me. I kicked the phantom legs I could still feel, but were no longer there. My mind tried to escape to the silence of the realm I’d just left, but his words pinned me down as effectively as the straps across my torso.
My screams echoed through the ward.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Springtime. Fresh air carries the aroma of recently shoveled dirt, moistened by the rain, throughout the graveyard. Shovels, left behind in a hurry when the downpour started, lie on the ground next to the grave of the newest inhabitant.
Normality? Yes, but a sinister presence surveys the scene, not the least bit happy. Chunks of wet soil cling to his hair-covered naked body. His nails are long and unkempt, and yet, what difference does it make? They are more effective for him to use when digging than any shovel fashioned by the hands of man. He lives beneath the surface, under the graves, in small cave like areas formed from his own efforts, surrounded by the clothing removed from the local residents.
They won’t say anything. Ha, ha! Dead people can’t snitch on him.
The taste of rotting flesh rolls around on his tongue, reminding him of his hunger, his insatiable desire to feed. Heavy rain comes down, slapping a tune on the gravestones more effectively than any drum-stick. He delights in the awareness of the cleansing on his hair and skin.
Momentary pleasure: he is still angry… angry that God remaindered him and his kind to suffer the indignities of their existence. Undead, yes. Immortal, yes. However, these things come at the high price of humiliation. Forced to feed on the dead like a common vulture is not to his liking.
Yet, this is the way it’s always been. How can it change now? He is not stronger than God; he is merely a creature formed by His hand: to do His bidding.
The new carcass beckons to him, speaking to him, insisting that he feed. His hunger forces him to go and dig up the coffin. He tears the lid open and gazes at the body of a young woman struck down in her prime. She can not possibly be any more than in her early twenties. Her clothing and hair style tell him this. He may not live amongst the rabble known as humans , but he has devoured enough of them to understand the latest fads and fashions. On a more primal level, his highly enhanced sense of smell enables him to decipher the age of a person by unfolding different layers of skin and reading them much like a botanist counts the rings of a tree.
This one smells peculiar to him: no odor of decay or embalming fluids. Recent death. A mortician trying to save a little money. Who knows? As long as she was remaindered to the soil in a timely manner, all will be well.
But… no; this is more, much more. Fool that he is, his hunger plays games with his mind. His desire to feed overcomes his usual stealth. Vigilance thrown to the wind!
She is alive! In some sort of comatose state, but the girl is very much alive.
What now? He can’t devour her. It is not allowed. Does he close the casket and re-bury her?
Yes! That is what he must do. If she wakes and sees him, she will spread word of his presence. This place has been his home for many years, he has no intention of giving it up. Everyone believes her to be dead. Who would know? This time she will die for sure.
He will come back to devour her when she is genuinely dead. Hopefully, her struggles when she comes out of her coma won’t spoil the taste of her sweet, succulent flesh. No, that would be a pity. The fresh deaths are always the tastiest. And the young ones? They are the best!
Before he can places the casket lid back in place, her eyes open. Upon seeing him, a look of horror stares him in the face. A gurgling sound works up from deep within her. In mere seconds she will holler out and alert whoever may be close by to her predicament.
“No! You can’t!” shouts the Ghoul. “No one must know I’m here!”
His mouth leaps to her neck and blackened yellow teeth rip into her throat, removing her vocal cords. Air from the outside rushes in through the gaping hole and tries to exhale from within her body, but she will not be making a sound now.
Her blood on his tongue excites him and he laps up as much as he can, squeezing her neck to force more out. The coppery taste is like nectar to him. The demon wants all he can get and savors the thought of her flesh rolling around his tongue, sliding down his throat, churning in his stomach to quell his hunger.
This can’t be! God will destroy him! Control! He needs to stop now. But if he does, she’ll surely alert others. They’ll come here, searching for him.
He is unable to put the taste of her out of his mind. A live feast! In his arms at this very moment, still trembling, her heart beating a staccato of pain. Another bite, not so deep as to kill her: no that would not be good. She would be like all the others if she was to die too fast. Patience. He has to have patience.
Bite after delicious bite, mingling with the delicious red nectar, heightens his senses. The heavy rain is unable to wash the young lady’s blood from his long, matted hair. A sense of madness invades the Ghoul, and he starts chuckling as he eats, enjoying the look on his meal’s face. Such terror for one so sweet and undeserving of her fate.
He rips off her clothing in order to better gorge upon his feast, and a swelling develops within his long body hair as he gazes down at what she has to offer him. It has been so long. Too long, and it was with one of his kind. However, she left, leaving him alone. Another desire he should not give in to, but what more could happen to him? He can only be killed once.
Still munching on her upper body, he slams himself deep inside her and feels her shake in pain. No finesse on the part of the Ghoul. Pleasures denied him for so many years must now be sated. On and on he goes until he violently unleashes many years of pent up semen deep within her.
Totally out of control after having reached his climax, he takes bigger and bigger bites from his victim. Her efforts to resist him lessen with each delicious morsel he partakes of as she draws nearer to death. Having been buried once and survived, she will not be so fortunate the second time.
Shuddering uncontrollably, her movements cease as the end comes. Before long, the Ghoul devours every bit of her flesh and starts feasting on her organs, intestines whipping around in a frenzy, slapping the huge raindrops to the side.
Only bones remain now.
He turns, expecting God, an Angel, something to smite him down. Only God is able to take his life, but others can cause harm to him. Nothing; no one is there. How can this be? He has gone against the rules. Perhaps God is just playing with him, teasing him before delivering the blow that will end his life. That would certainly not reflect well on the merciful Almighty One, would it?
Nothing happens as he slips the lid back on the coffin and reburies it. He makes sure everything looks the way it did before he ravaged the girl. Usually, he digs his way upwards from the ground below and tears out the bottom of a coffin to feast. Nothing to cover up that way. Who would know what happened unless the coffin was dug up and moved. Even then they would think it to be the work of some animal. An animal, yes, they would consider him to be an animal if they saw him. Human cretins. They know nothing. He is their superior!
The rain comes down harder, this time washing him clean, shoving the blood and gore into the soil. He sits on a tombstone pondering what just happened. Would he have been able to eat fresh meat before now? Did he waste all these years subsisting on the most foul of mankind? He sensed God’s presence here before but not now. And the Fallen Angel, the Creator’s mortal enemy? The Ghoul does not feel his presence either.
Conflict and anger register in his mind. A battle is being waged. Is this the Armageddon he’s heard tales of? Has the battle begun? Is that why no one has come? But the war is not being fought here. Whatever is going on has moved on to another place.
He watches the rain until it ends and is entranced by the fog crawling midway up on his body once the deluge is over. A gentle breeze flicks the hairs on his body around, turning them into sensors picking up vibes of all that is happening in the area.
“Yes,” he says to himself, “the rules are changed. My destiny is not what it was.”
Off in the distance people are shuffling along, approaching his home. He smiles and stretches his talons.
“Come, you fools: the graveyard waits.”
~ Blaze McRob
© Copyright 2014 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.