Everyone’s A Victim

Smelling salts woke her. Despite the thick fabric covering her head, the ammonia burned strong in her sinuses. It was a smell she knew well; she used it on a regular basis. Her first attempts to move failed. She was bound with her wrists restrained behind her. An overhead light provided little more than a shadowy figure through the hood.

“Welcome back, Ms. Kline.” The voice of a long-time smoker rasped.

The woman struggled against her bonds, nearly capsizing the chair.

“I suggest you settle down a bit,” he said. “Otherwise, I may be forced to do something I wasn’t planning on.”

“What is this?” she shouted back. “Let me go!”

She watched as a thick hand reached out to her and ripped the pillowcase from her head. She winced and turned away from the brighter light. After a moment of blinking, she whirled back around, flinging a verbal assault as she turned, “Fuck you, you so—”

She fell silent.

The sight of him caught her off guard. A middle-aged, obese man stood before her wearing nothing but off-white briefs and rubber boots. The random patchwork of hair on his body and chin glistened with sweat. His mouth rested in a subtle smile, but his eyes glared at her with a palpable intensity.

When she tore her eyes away, she realized she was without clothes as well. Naked and bound, she was sitting in a small space with masonry walls that reminded her of the little coal closet in her grandfather’s basement. This one, however, was lined by a collage of pornography clippings.

“Can you feel how special this place is?” he asked.

She stared at him in silence.

“Here, I can make people see me. Out there, you looked right through me as if I were a ghost. But here, in here, I get all the attention.”

The man stepped closer and caressed her cheek. He let his chubby fingers slide along her skin, all the way down her torso as he watched her. She gave no response, only continued her emotionless stare.

“You know, most women I bring here weep incessantly or pull away from my touch.” He stepped back and gestured to a small table against the wall. Its surface held an array of grimy tools. “That is, until I break them.”

Still no reaction came from the bound woman.

His arrogant smile faded. With all playfulness gone, he snatched up a paring knife and stepped toward her again, this time leaning close; face to face.

“This is the only place on Earth where Heaven and Hell coexists. Your body and your pain will bring me rapture, while no amount of pleading or bargaining will exclude you from this Hell!”

He pressed the blade against her shoulder until it broke the skin with a subtle pop. Blood beaded on the surface. Still, she gave no reaction.

He brought the knife between them, showing it to her, shaking it in front of her face. “Tonight we will share lots of pain. You will not hold silent for long!”

In a swift motion that he only saw as a blur in his periphery, the woman brought her arms around and shoved his knife wielding hand upward. The blade pierced the underside of his chin and he tumbled back against the wall. Before his body settled to the floor she ripped the knife out of him and cut her ankle bonds.

She stood over him, untangling the remaining rope from her wrists while watching him try to figure out what just took place.

“You know, you had me going at first.” She said in a calm tone. “I thought the cops finally caught up to me.”

“How?” he asked with blood gurgling in his throat.

“Learn your knots better… and use thinner rope.” She said, tossing the scraps at him. “As much as it pains me to say this, we’re a lot alike, you and me. Except, I like to play the victim until all the dark desires come out. It’s so much fun to use their interests against them.”

“W-well,” the fat man gurgled, “maybe we could—”

“No, no,” she said laughing. “No amount of pleading or bargaining will get you out of this. Heaven and Hell will still happen, just not the way you had planned.”

She picked up the tiny packet of smelling salts and inhaled deeply.

“Goddamn, that gets me fired up! I’ll save the rest for you, though; you’re going to need it.”

With a smile, she grabbed the utility saw off of the table and went to work.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Silly Bunny

Bunnies

Oh, what a lovely selection this year! Such cute little bunnies. Each with a cherubic face: round rosy cheeks, tiny pink lips, glistening wide eyes. I don’t know where to begin… I suppose I’ll just pluck one at random – what fun this will be.

They seem to grow uncomfortable when I try to coax the first one toward me. I don’t want to frighten them; don’t they know how I love my precious bunnies? I suppose the fidgeting and jostling should be expected as my impatience drives me to grab the first boy and drag him forward. Calming myself, I reach back in time and recall my grandmother’s instructions from when I myself was a youth.

“Everyone knows you start with the eyes. Nibbling them off the face is the first step. Then the ears. Yes, the ears. You begin on the right, taking small bites until you reach the crown – but don’t crack it! Breaching the skull at this point would be unforgivable!” She would say with mock exaggeration. Giggling, we would begin peeling back the foil wrapper together. “Next, it’s the legs. Nibble, nibble, nibble! Once you reach the torso, it’s time for a final sugary treat – the bow tie. When I was a girl, I ate all the parts off my bunnies first, and then I would line up their leftover bodies to be devoured later!” She would always tickle me when she reached this part of the story.

The din of screaming children is a faint echo compared to the bliss of such a treasured memory. As my eyes open, I see the other bunnies gathered in the corner, scrambling and clawing at one another to climb out of their pen. Silly bunnies! You can’t get out… the wall is much too high, I chortle to myself. Then I notice the change – tears streak their once placid faces; their formerly rosy cheeks are now blotchy and rouged an ugly red. Both saddened and angered, I turn my attention back to the one I’m holding. I realize he’s squirming and shoving against my hand to be set free. My previous jubilant mood is beginning to sour. Why are they ruining this for me? Selfish little bunnies!

In my anger, I must have shaken him too hard – the little bunny is no longer struggling; blood is trickling from his open mouth; his body dangles slack in my grip. Another special day ruined. How I miss my gram and the delicious bunnies she would bring me; now I’m forced to collect my own. Glancing toward the corner, I see a few have given up and are sitting on the floor sobbing. The cacophony of terrified wails from the others has grown in volume and pitch. I wonder if gram was wrong. I wonder if I should set these bunnies free; they really are adorable, after all. Then I look down at the one dangling from my hand. A small smile begins to creep its way across my face. I’m a good boy; I deserve these bunnies.

Everyone knows you start with the eyes…

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Monstrosities

The alley is dark, but if I want to get back to the hotel before the heavy rains come, this is the fastest route to take. My shadow is joined by a second shadow, and I instinctively turn around to see who is following me. There is no one there. Shit! I’m doing one of those double shadow things where I cast a shadow in front of me, and a second shadow forms behind me.

I laugh as the crazy antics play out before my eyes. The shadow in the rear looks like it’s trying to catch the one in front. The dark heads bob and weave, one going to the front while the other one goes to the rear. Run and chase, the one in the rear never standing a chance of catching the other one, no matter how the light filtering through the alley catches my body and casts my double entendre.

Complete darkness occurs as street light after street light pops ahead of and behind me, the stench of the burned sodium vapor tearing at my throat, and making my eyes tear up. Damn! What caused this?

No light anywhere. The city is black.

My gut instinct says to run, but how can I run if I can’t see? It was bad enough in here before with just a little light. My only course of action is to slow things down so I don’t trip and break my skull open. If it rains, it rains. Too bad for me.

I’m not alone. Scurrying sounds are everywhere, small animals most likely. Probably rats; I can hear their claws traipsing across the blacktop.

Just what I need! I hate rats. I’ve never been bitten by one, but I’ve had them crawl on me, so close their whiskers cut a swath of uncertainty deep into my gut, and me not knowing if I would become a tasty snack for their voracious appetites or if I would luck out.

I am a Pied Piper once more, the darkness drawing them out, and the sound of my rapidly beating heart acting as a pipe to attract them to me. The farther I go, the more of the bastards join in, the sound of their approach driving me crazy! Are they really there? Am I imagining the whole thing? Maybe there are only a few; maybe none at all.

The darkness! Yes, that’s what’s causing the paranoia in my mind. Once I’m out of this alley, everything will be just fine. No more rats; no more scurrying sounds.

But… but how do I leave? I have no way to get my bearings. There is no light anywhere. Disorientation rears its ugly head as I bump into trash dumpsters scattered about, slip on loose gravel spread around, and attempt to control the anxiety attack swelling up inside me.
“Breathe, damn it! If you collapse, you’re fucking gone. The rats will get you for sure then.”

Air! I can’t get enough of it. My head spins from a lack of oxygen; my feet refuse to follow any patterns of sensibility. They flail about in bewilderment, forgetting that they have a function and they know what it is.

The walls of the buildings move in on me, shrinking the space I have to move about in, narrowing the distance the rats have to go to get to me. Visions of rats and me being crushed together, our bodily fluids joining and becoming one, the common pool of blood between us forming a river, running through the slanted alley road towards the sewers, creates a panorama of horror which causes me to shake, the rattling so bad the trash dumpsters I grab on to for support move about on their grease laden wheels.

Escape! I need to escape! Everything is after me!

There are no city noises to guide me to a place of safety. Nothing. Absolute silence. Where is everybody? The lights just went out. This isn’t an apocalyptic event. Where are the fucking cars? They don’t need electricity to run.

Reaching what I believe to be a main road, I wander aimlessly about, attempting to find some way out of where I am and toward my hotel where, dark or not, I will be able to escape the rats and the walls closing in on me.

Ahah! I cross the road, sure I’m on the way to my hotel, when I’m funneled back into the alley. The walls close in on me, slamming shut from where I just came, forcing me to move ahead. There are no other choices.

What’s forcing me to go through this alley? Is there purpose behind it all? Can’t be. A dream of some sorts. Yes, that’s it. Just a bad dream.

But wait! Pain is coursing through my body from jockeying into walls and trash dumpsters. I shouldn’t feel pain if I’m asleep, should I?

Again, the rats! Only now they seem bigger, their footfalls slamming into the warn pavement as if they’re the size of dogs, big dogs, the size of German Shepherds. Get a grip! There are no rats that size. It’s impossible.

Shoved to the ground by the force of these things, I repeatedly get up, only to be slapped down again, not once, but many times. And the whiskers rub up against me, taunting me, telling me there’s nothing I can do about it. Damn! They are as large as they sounded.

They herd me down the alley, not stopping in their assaults, even giving me a bite here and there to tell me what will happen if I don’t go along with their wishes. The nervous sweat pouring down my body flows into all the wounds I’ve received, creating not-so-sweet burning sensations that add to my anxiety.

Once more the walls close in on me, pushing my fear of being trapped in the dark alley higher and higher. My vertigo completely gone, my dizziness makes me lurch about like a drunk, and I no longer need the assistance of the rats to knock me to the ground. Sand and gravel join the salt as they are shoved into my cuts from the impact as I roll around in my confused stupor.

Huge, black shapes loom up ahead of me, two of them, so dark that they make the light-less alley seem like a well-lit thoroughfare of neon. Not a sound is uttered by them. They merely stand ahead of me, waiting ever so patiently for me to reach them. As much as I am terrified by the rats, these new entities have a much more powerful presence, and I seek to retreat from where I came from.

Yes, I’ll just force my way through these rats, find some kind of strength, and get out of this alley.

Shit! I can’t! My retreat is blocked off again: a wall has formed behind me. My only escape lies on the other side of these monstrosities of the dark.

The black entities advance towards me; the rear wall pushes in my direction as well. There is no escape. I am doomed.

They hover over me and force their way into my body. The pain is excruciating as they take control of what I once was, but never will be again. My strength is sapped, but I must hearken to their commands.

We walk out of the dark alley and into a world of semi light as the power slowly returns to the grid. My shadows have now combined into one Dark Being. And me? I have split in half, my head bobbing one way and the other, my rear self, trying to catch up to my front self.

My shadow self smiles…

~ Blaze McRob

© Copyright 2015 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.

Annual Hunt

Ed Rutledge hugged his rifle under his right arm as he adjusted his toque with his left. The early morning hours were always cold this time of year and the fact that it was the Annual Hunt just made it that much worse.

He was glad that he wasn’t facing the task alone, though. John Glasgow and Christian Stevenson were on either side of him as they made their way through the empty streets of Emmettsville.

“What time is it?”

John looked at his watch. “It’s almost four. We still have three and a half hours to go before dawn.”

“Good,” Christian said. “Three and a half hours to kill this fucker.”

Ed nodded.

It was his eighth time participating in the hunt and the forty-nine year old welder had become something of a legend around Emmettsville when just five years earlier he had successfully killed the first werewolf, Terry Indigo. He should’ve felt proud of the accomplishment, but he knew the feeling would be short lived as there would be a new werewolf to hunt the following year.

“There’s something that never ceases to amaze me,” Ed said. “Even though everyone in town is told to go to the church hall to wait out the hunt, the werewolf always manages to kill a few every year.”

“I wish a lot more people would leave their lights on,” John said. “These old street lamps create more shadows than they cut through.”

“There are two things I hate about the hunt,” Christian said. “The fact we’re not allowed to shoot the werewolf in human form or while it’s changing and that the werewolf has to bite someone every year.”

“The bite guarantees that there will be a hunt the following year if the hunters are successful,” Ed said. “Plus you never know what can happen between hunts. You two are aware that Brendon Jenkins has been the wolf for the last five years, correct?”

Both men nodded.

“Shortly after the hunt last year, Brendon got diagnosed with cancer and they only gave him six to eight months to live. He’s lasted twelve. I would say either way that this will be his last hunt.”

“Who was it last year?” John asked. “I mean, who got bit?”

“Carly Fortner,” Ed replied. “She was only fourteen.”

Christian shook his head in disgust. “I can’t believe he chose to bite a fourteen year old girl.”

The three hunters walked in silence as they remembered how Carly had been found crying with a large bite in her shoulder, knowing her fate had been sealed.

“That doesn’t mean that she’ll be the next one though,” John said. “Remember, Todd Charleston had been bitten in the second year of the hunt. He still hasn’t assumed his role. Strange how the disease or whatever it is only allows one person to change in a given area at one time. Why do you think that is?”

Christian shrugged and was about to say something when Ed held his arms out, stopping them. All three immediately brought their rifles up to the shoulders and looked about.

“What is it?” John whispered.

“There’s blood on the road.”

Ed walked up to the small accumulation of blood, knelt down and stuck two fingers into it. As he turned his hand over to look at his fingertips, he cringed. Even though he had seen his fair share of bodies over the years during the hunt, feeling someone else’s blood on his skin never got easy.

“It’s still warm,” he said, wiping his fingers on his pants.

“Is it a trail?” John asked.

“No. It’s a small pool but, it was left here deliberately. He’s close so keep your eyes open.”

Christian let his rifle drift down from his shoulder a bit as he looked at Ed. “Did you say it was deliberate?”

Ed nodded.

“Why would it…”

The attack happened incredibly fast. It leapt out of the shadows with a snarl and tackled Christian onto the pavement. Even in the shitty streetlight, the werewolf was an impressive and horrifying sight. Underneath the dark brown coat of fur was a six and a half foot muscular frame built to hunt man.

It easily bit through Christian’s shirt into his flesh.

John fired off a shot but not surprisingly missed. The werewolf howled as it sprung off Christian and disappeared into the shadows on the other side of the street. Within seconds, they heard it crash through branches into the woods.

Christian screamed, clutching his torn shoulder. “It fucking bit me!”

Ed and John both knelt down beside their injured friend but he turned away their assistance.

“I know how to take care of myself. Go kill that fucking thing!”

Without hesitating, Ed was on his feet and running. On the way by, he grabbed John by the back of his shirt, yanking him along towards the dark tree line.

***

Somewhere in the distance, the werewolf howled.

It felt like they had been going in circles for a couple of hours. John was breathing heavy and Ed knew that his friend was tired. The adrenalin from the attack had worn off long ago, and now they were barely able to keep on the werewolf’s trail.

“Ed,” John said between breaths. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said earlier… about Brendon being sick.”

“What about it?”

“Well, what do you think a disease such as that would do to a werewolf?”

Another howl pierced the night.

“Have you been listening to the howls?” John asked, looking around. “They don’t sound as strong or vocal as they did earlier in the night.” The werewolf cried out again. “Ed, to me the howls sound weak… almost as if the werewolf is sick.”

Ed thought for a moment. What his friend was saying sounded plausible – if the cancer did transfer over, how would it affect it?

“You might be on to something. What do you say we end this one?”

John sighed, nodded and pushed off from the tree.

They pressed on but had only walked another twenty minutes when they heard another howl that was quickly cut off by a high-pitched whine intertwined with pain.

The sounds were close by.

John looked over at Ed, clearly unnerved.

“What the hell is that?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” Ed replied.

The whining continued as they moved forward with their rifles repositioned for firing at a moment’s notice. Within a few minutes, the trees thinned out as they approached the area where the sound originated. They stepped into a small clearing and stopped with their mouths agape.

It was lying on its side.

The beast was convulsing as if it were suffering a seizure, it wasn’t completely transformed. Its lower extremities resembled a wolf’s hind haunches but the fur on its torso had started to rip, human skin pushing its way through. Partially formed hands twitched uncontrollably at the end of human arms.

“Oh my god, look at its face,” John managed to say before he threw up.

The head was a misshapen mess that reminded Ed of the bizarre animal fetuses he had seen in the freak show of last summer’s carnival – half Brendon, half wolf. Inside its malformed mouth, a tongue rolled and lapped up against its snout.

He cautiously approached and the beast tried to squirm away, but the tremors had eliminated any ability to control its movement. One golden wolf eye, along with Brendon’s own blue eye, stared back as he tried to come to grips with what he was looking at.

With a deep breath, Ed raised his rifle and fired twice into its head. Within seconds, the body lay still.

“Ed, what happened to it?” John asked. He stared long and hard at the misshapen corpse.

“It couldn’t change.”

John looked up to the sky and then at his watch. “It’s still not sunrise, so why would it be changing?”

Ed took his hat off and ran his hand over his balding head. “Maybe it was sick like you said.”

“Do you really think the cancer could interfere with a werewolf changing?”

Ed shrugged. “It’s possible.”

“This is fucked up,” John bent at the waist and placed his hands on his knees preparing for another round of vomiting. “Did you see its eyes?”

“Yes I did.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget those.”

“Neither will I,” Ed said as he watched John look over at the body and then back at him. “The wolf eye wanted me dead but its human eye…” Ed swallowed. “Brendon’s eye was pleading… pleading for me to kill him.”

“Oh my god…” John trailed off.

“You know, when I shot and killed the werewolf a few years ago, I had killed in the course of the hunt. I felt justified and like a hero.” Ed placed his hat back on his head and looked at the body. “This time, I feel like a murderer.”

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

The Orchard

The fruits of our labour will not ripen in our lifetime. The Father teaches that we do not pray and work for ourselves but for our grandchildren. They will reap what we sow.

I am one of many assigned to work in the orchard, spending long pleasant days among rows of trees. It is more enjoyable work than the stables or the kitchen.

Every season the harvest is full, I pick buckets of rosy apples, sharp green pears, plump apricots. The garden beds grow abundant vegetables and our livestock provides us with meat, eggs, milk and wool.

I watch as the men load the boxes into the truck. They leave very early in the morning for markets in nearby towns to sell our produce. I stare after the truck nervously as it departs down the dusty road. Sometimes they are gone for days at a time. It is dangerous for them to travel amongst the Dead but I know they are strong. They will not be seduced by the evil that lurks beyond the gates of our home.

The first time I glimpsed the Father, I knew that he was what I had been searching for all my life. If you have not known real love I cannot explain it to you. Not emotional sentimentality, but love that nurtures and sustains.

The Father teaches that in a world of lies, we are keepers of the truth. The Father teaches that our faith is a jewel we must guard fiercely against corruption. The Father teaches that this sacred land has been passed down through the lineage since the very beginning. To protect the earth is to protect our faith. We have been drawn here because we are the chosen.

Far beyond the rolling hills of the valley lie the cities of the Dead, seething wastelands of decay and pollution. We call them the Dead because they are deaf to the truth and blind to the spark that governs all creation. With their incessant breeding they are constantly creeping forward, slowly taking more and more, encroaching on our sacred land. We must stand firm against the plague of greed that threatens our way of life. We will not throw the first stone but when the war begins we will fight. I haven’t seen the bunkers myself but the Father assures us we are armed and prepared. We know that one day they will come and we know that we will triumph for we are the chosen.

It began when I was folding the laundry with Catherine.

“Do you ever think of returning?” she asked casually.

A bed sheet floated between us as we held the ends. It rippled like a sail, thin and translucent. I remembered standing beneath a bed sheet as a little girl; my mother and father floated it above me like a parachute. Thin fabric drifted slowly down around me as I crouched, draping me gently, the world cloaked in white haze. I laughed as it was lifted again with a soft rush, ballooning around me. The memory sent a shiver through me. I frowned at Catherine.

“Returning where?”

“To your home.”

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she was saying such things.

“This is my home Catherine. This is your home.”

“Well yes, it is now, of course,” she said quickly. “But I mean don’t you ever miss your old home?”

I couldn’t fathom what she meant. I ignored her and quickly finished the folding.

I stormed away in anger but as I glanced out over the beautiful valley I could see, far off in the distance, a dark shadow looming, and I was overcome by terrible fear. It was the army of the Dead, rows and rows of faceless men and women, waiting for the order to march.

I am stranded in the suburb of my childhood. Everything looks the same. Decades have passed but nothing has changed. Anxiety sets in and I begin running past endless identical houses, turning street after street, running deeper into a maze of grey. I am out of breath, I can’t run anymore, I pause to rest.

“Elizabeth?”

I jump in surprise and turn around. I have stopped before my parent’s house and there at the front gate stand my mother and father.

My father has his arm around my mother protectively, holding her up as she gazes at me, her eyes pleading with tears.

I woke up in a cold sweat. It was early morning, just before sunrise. I was worried I may have attracted attention but no one else was awake. Across from me lay Catherine, sleeping peacefully in her bed, a picture of innocence.

I got dressed and went for a walk to clear my mind. I walked to the orchard, my favourite place to steal a few minutes alone.

The ground was wet with dew, the air crisp with a thin mist. I stood beneath a large apple tree and looked out over the hills. Glancing down I noticed many apples had fallen from the tree. Over ripe and bruised, wrinkled and turning brown, worm ridden. The sight of it troubled me. We never let anything go to waste.

An orange glow began to fill the valley, a picturesque view, almost too beautiful to be true. On the periphery I caught a glimpse of the creeping shadow, growing stronger with each passing moment.

The bell rang suddenly and I fled in panic. Everyone would be rising and getting ready for breakfast. I hoped no one had noticed I slipped out.

All day I watched Catherine, going about her duties as usual, pretending nothing was wrong. The Father teaches that the signs are there for those who have eyes to see. Walking through the courtyard, I notice weeds had pushed their way through the stones. They were not there the day before. In the library I sat with a closed book in my hands, disturbed by the thick layer of dust that lined the windowsills.

During dinner Catherine ate her soup quietly and avoided meeting my eye.

After the meal I saw her talking to Rebecca, one of the youngest Daughters. They chatted and laughed casually but I read Rebecca’s face when Catherine walked away. The blush of confusion, a fine line of doubt on her forehead; she was preoccupied as she stacked plates away on the shelf.

I understood completely then and knew what I had to do. Catherine could not be permitted to spread her toxic thoughts any longer. They were poisoning our community, creeping like a vine, slowly encompassing and choking everything.

Later that evening I approached the Mother. I found her sitting quietly on the porch. I told her I needed to speak to the Father. She told me that was not possible. I insisted, stressing that it was very important.

“You may discuss your concern with me Daughter,” she said without looking up from her knitting.

I told her everything. It all came tumbling out. She didn’t respond or seem at all interested. Her eyes were on a small group of men as they sat, chanting hymns by the fire. Then she got up and walked into her bedroom, closing the door gently behind her.

That night I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning as I went over every detail. I was worried. Would the Mother accuse me of gossip?

When they came for her it was still dark outside, several hours before sunrise. I heard them enter the dormitory and I gasped under my sheets, curling up in terror. They walked toward my bed but they turned toward Catherine.

They scooped her up and began to drag her out. She mumbled in her sleep and then she began to shout. Her screams were muffled as they took her away.

Breakfast was had in silence. We knew Catherine was with the Father. We heard the bells that called us to gather. Calmly we tidied things away then filed into the courtyard.

We circled the platform, staring up in fear and awe. The Mother and the Father stood either side of Catherine, her head hung low in shame.

The Father’s face was creased with sadness, the burden of his task apparent, but a beautiful aura of light always surrounds him. I could see the bright blue of his gentle eyes.

“My children,” he began, his voice calm and strong. “Today I grieve. I grieve for the weakness of humankind that has led so many astray. We will be tested but our faith cannot be destroyed. Let your resolve be strengthened. By their own hand the weak and treacherous will perish.”

The Father stepped backward and bowed his head. The Mother was expressionless as she placed the heavy rope around Catherine’s neck. Catherine began to sob quietly, her shoulders shaking.

“This is my home!” a voice shouted, as it cut the tension in the air. A hand clamped my mouth and my brothers and sisters huddled around me. The voice was mine, I realised, and I began to cry, too.

I turned away as it was done, my face buried in my hands. I heard the shocked intake of breath that rippled through the gathering. I heard the creak of wood as Catherine’s body dropped, suspended by the strong beam above.

When I looked back, Catherine’s body hung limp and empty. I watched her feet twitch, then stop.

A perfect stillness permeated everything. The angry tears that rolled down my cheeks become tears of relief. I looked out towards the horizon, saw no sign of the shadow. Everything was as it should be. The shadow had been vanquished and we were safe again, at least for a while longer. Another beautiful day lay ahead, I walked to the orchard to begin my work.

~ Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.

Chance

Carrie Ann woke when Chance’s wet nose nudged her shoulder.

“Go away, Chance.”

Chance nudged her again, harder this time.

“Go lay down!” Carrie Ann snatched the blanket up over her face.

Chance wasn’t taking no for an answer and hopped up onto the bed, rooting his face in the covers.

“Okay, alright. Let’s go, but don’t take forever.”

Chance hopped off the bed, bolting down the hallway and onto the porch. Carrie Ann followed and when she reached the door, Chance was walking in tight circles, panting in anticipation.

She unlocked the deadbolt, barely opening the door before Chance raced into the backyard, disappearing into the woods surrounding the mountainside home. Crisp winter air bit at her skin and she pulled the door closed. She grabbed a blanket from the basket alongside the tattered couch that was left by the back door for Chance. Carrie Ann bundled up and waited for Chance to come back to the door.

The full moon illuminated the backyard, long shadows from the towering pines stretching through the open spaces while Carrie Ann stared through the window watching for Chance’s return. After twenty minutes, Carrie Ann resigned herself to the fact that Chance must have caught scent of something in the woods, and he wasn’t returning any time soon.

Carrie Ann went back to her bedroom and climbed into bed. She fell asleep within minutes and settled into an unnerving dream. She dreamt that she’d went down to the river with Chance and while they were there, it started raining. Not just an ordinary rain, but the type of intense summer rain that rumbled through the south most afternoons. They tried to run home but the river swelled quickly, washing out the trail. Carrie Ann climbed into a tree and as she climbed, she realized that Chance had been swept away in the torrent. She called his name over and over with no answer; he never came into sight.

A whimpering sound pulled her from the nightmare and she sat up, flinching when a bang came from the window in her room, followed by a scratching on the screen. She cleared the sleep from her eyes with the palms of her hands and went to the back door, grabbing the flashlight she kept on the window ledge of the porch. The moon had slipped from the sky leaving the backyard eerily quiet, masked in inky darkness.

Carrie Ann opened the door and stepped onto the patio, the cold concrete sending shivers twisting up her spine. “Chance!”

The flashlight’s beam swept across the backyard while a brisk wind raked through the naked trees. Goosebumps blossomed on her skin when the light reflected off a pair of eyes at the far end of the house. She swallowed hard, her eyes focusing on what she hoped was Chance.

“Chance? Come on, it’s okay.”

Chance stepped into the light, squinting in the harshness of it, his head hung low. As he got closer, Carrie Ann noticed a glistening wetness around his mouth. Chance reluctantly made his way even closer and lowered his shameful gaze to the ground.

A rustling came from the darkness and Carrie Ann swung the beam of light towards the corner of the patio before looking back to Chance.

“Chance? Did you find something out there?”

Chance looked up to Carrie Ann’s disappointed face, a smirk sneaking through his sheepish expression.

“Oh no. Not again.” She took a deep breath and knew she would spend the rest of the night cleaning up whatever mess Chance had gotten into. “Come on. Let’s go see what you got.”

Chance followed Carrie Ann to the corner of the house, she gagged when her light revealed a bloodied mess lying in the dirt. Carrie Ann swallowed the bile rising in the back of her throat and leaned closer, her eyes squinting trying to determine what exactly she was seeing.

The mangled mess writhed on the ground and Carrie Ann stepped back. Chance became excited, dancing around, screeching and squealing like a banshee before Carrie Ann smacked him on the head. Chance cowered and backed away.

“Where’d you find her, Chance?”

Chance looked up and pointed to the lights twinkling in the valley below.

The naked woman coughed and sputtered on the ground, a feeble arm reaching out toward Carrie Ann’s leg. Carrie Ann snatched her foot away and walked toward the shed not far from the back of the house while Chance remained hovering over his prize, wringing his bloodied hands in his Batman shirt.

A few minutes later, Carrie Ann returned with a wheelbarrow full of supplies: a shovel, an axe, and a large roll of trash bags. She rested the tools next to where the girl continued to struggle for her last remaining breath.

Grabbing the shovel, she turned and stood over Chance’s latest kill and fixed her gaze on the confused eyes of her older brother. Though he was nearly ten years older than her, his mind had never developed much more than that of an eight year old. She’d learned that scolding him did no good; he had no concept of right or wrong and her energy would be wasted, energy she’d need to dispose of this body like she’d done with the others.

A forced, sloppy cough escaped the girl’s twisted mouth as Carrie Ann raised the shovel over her head. She hesitated for a moment; the woman’s face somewhat reminded her of her mother’s before Carrie Ann had to put her and her father out of their misery after one of Chance’s episodes. Carrie Ann shook the vision of her mother from her mind and smiled before smashing the shovel into the center of the girl’s forehead, gore splattering onto the ground and spraying up into Carrie Ann’s face. Chance, unable to contain himself, erupted in a series of high-pitched shrieks and howls, dancing around the area.

Carrie Ann smashed the shovel into the girl’s head over and over until it had nearly flattened out. She rested the shovel against the side of the house, swiped the back of her hand across her face and stood watching her brother dance around the yard. Chance was a fucking mess, no doubt, but he was her mess and she loved him no matter what.

Carrie Ann couldn’t let Chance celebrate alone so she joined her brother, dancing hand in hand under a moonless winter sky.

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.

Pathogen

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

So I was ordained.

I did not wish to realize what soon would become my mission – no, not at first. However, upon mahogany framed photographs, cabinetry and desktops and once brilliant sheens of glass, I glimpsed smudge laden impressions, shrilling so loudly in defiance, that no longer could I deny my calling.

When first I arrived, t’was the maid I suspected of carelessness.

The maid – the latex so snug round each of her delicate fingers; how I adored the brisk snap of glove at her wrist. The maid – whose pores emanated the addictive rich luster of lemon and pine. Yes, at first I suspected the maid of carelessness, of inattention to detail, but – forgive me – that notion occurred before God came to me, before He revealed the goodness of her aseptic heart. All too clearly then, I recognized the near futile nature of her fight.

Shoulder to shoulder, I thusly joined her.

She took to my camaraderie, the careful twinkle in her eye serving as unmistakable proof that she recognized the malignancy burrowed within my smile. I watched from afar as wraithlike she slipped room to room, wielding in elegant arcs her chosen duster of ostrich down, disrupting the meticulously crafted plans of the pathogens; alas, they still found a way to reconvene. Yet her fortitude never waned; a true warrior, my respect she earned unfalteringly.

I chastised myself then; how could it be the maid: her attention to detail so prudent, her keen mind strumming at a perfect pitch. Ah, brave soul, she had but one flaw.

She possessed not the heart of a killer.

As the weeks elapsed, I realized her innocence remained as laundered as her charm. Her loyalty steadfast, she rose daily alongside the cock from her unassuming quarters to enter into a tomb of opposition and filth. But her strain I soon glimpsed; not within her eyes, mind you, but the manner in which her veins twitched while smoothing the apron at her waist. No longer her cheeks blushed upon our stolen glances; my words, once soothing as only honey can soothe, now hastily ingested in a caustic bite. As acid dribbles to scour stone, so too did her very soul begin to erode. I had seen quite enough.

Heaven’s gilded light guided me through shadows of eve. Down halls I stalked, snaring the floorboard’s breath as in warning it exhaled. The initial quarters required minimal effort or care…for the pathogens squirmed little under the cases chosen to silence their hellish maws.

Into a larger chamber of grandeur I ascended, thereby viewing the host, slumbering in tangled, monstrous limbs under its canopied shelter. There I hovered, watching in frozen silence as the moon danced, leaving polish in untainted glitter across my eyes, until I could watch no longer. No more smudging, no more fouling in the wake of diligent servitude! I drew my eager blade across them both, hummed along to their wet whistles, their gurgle songs of release.

My calling complete, I withdrew back to her quarter’s door, softly rap-rap-rapping until it parted, revealing to me she – the maid – my rapturous mistress of purity. I offered my hand; she claimed it, yet not before slipping the nightgown from her sylphen shoulders. “So it is done, then. God has chosen to cleanse this domicile,” exhaling into my arms.

“Yes,” agreed I, “by the butler’s hand once more.”

~ Joseph A. Pinto

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

Not Quite Indian Summer

Tag, you’re it!”

“Ow, my mother said no one’s supposed to touch me there!” April rubbed her chest, frowning at Ben.

“Big deal. It’s not like you have boobs or anything.”

Before she could tell him she did so have boobs, Ben ran off, calling her ‘flatso’. He disappeared behind the Mowry’s house.

Probably hiding in their shed, April thought.

“Come on April, you have to start looking for us,” her friend Melody shouted, zipping past her, going across the street into her own backyard.

She smiled, momentarily forgetting the throbbing pain behind her left nipple. “Okay, I’m gonna count to ten!”

Her mother bought her a training bra just last night, right after dinner. It was a special mommy-daughter shopping night at Kohls. They got frozen yogurt afterwards. April wondered if the flimsy thing would have cushioned the blow. It was in her drawer now, waiting for school on Monday.

By the time she reached ten, everyone was gone. She didn’t have to find all five of them. All it took was one. There was no way she was going to make Melody it. That left Ben, Seth and Sean.

Just thirty seconds ago, they were standing around, wondering what to do. All of their parents had taken their iPods and game systems away, forcing them outside. It was a hot September Saturday, still summer according to the calendar. But, the kids all knew summer was long gone. The morning the bell rang to start the new school year, summer had been obliterated, left to memories of sleeping in, swimming and staying up late, watching TV.

Seth was suggesting they get their bikes and head over to the field to see if the Mr. Softee truck was around when Ben hit her in the chest, igniting a game of tag.

April sniffed the air. It still smelled like summer.

She thought she saw Seth’s Converse underneath Mr. Coleman’s pickup. Sean was most likely hiding behind his above ground pool. Either that or his father’s pigeon coop. The little shack stunk to high heaven. No way was she going in there looking for him.

It had to be Ben. Her dad liked to say ‘Payback’s a bitch’ a lot, especially when he watched sports. Her older cousin Tony told her what it meant last summer – that and a whole lot of other dirty phrases, most of them describing when a man put his thing down there in a woman.

“Ready or not, here I come!” April shouted. She made a beeline for the Mowry house. Mr. and Mrs. Mowry were at work now, but they never minded the kids using their yard for games. Sometimes old people could be cool. Most times, not.

The white and green aluminum shed sat in a corner of the yard, underneath a skinny elm tree. The door was partway open.

“Got you,” she whispered.

It was hot in the shed. She’d been inside it plenty of times. If you hid in there, you had to keep the door open a crack to breathe. Otherwise, you’d choke on gas and oil fumes, boiling in the tight space.

April threw the door open and lunged.

Ben was sitting on a big bag of potting soil. He squinted against the harsh shaft of light. “No fair,” he protested.

April’s teeth sunk into the flesh of his soft, exposed throat. She worked at the chewy bits of tendon while blood sluiced down her throat, spattering the pretty pink top she’d gotten at Kohls last night.

Ben’s body went into spasms. He gurgled, his arms flapping at April’s sides. She pulled away, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

While Ben struggled for breath, April pulled up her shirt, revealing two tiny mounds, no bigger than the rounded tops of cupcakes. Her chest was smeared with blood.

“I told you I have boobs now,” she said, giggling.

He slipped off the bag of soil with a wet plop.

“Ben’s it now!” April yelled.

Melody, Sean and Seth bounded into the yard, lured by her call.

“Oh man,” Sean said, pulling up short. Seth bumped into him. “Watch where you’re walking!”

“You’re in my way!” Seth blurted.

“Will you two stop it,” Melody barked.

Sean spun around, slapping Seth hard. As his friend tottered, he closed the gap between them, clamping down on his cheek and tearing his head back, spitting a chunk of flesh on the grass.

Seth covered the wound with his hand.

“You asstard!”

He dove headfirst into Sean, knocking the wind from him. They landed on the ground, a tangle of flailing limbs. Flecks of blood splattered everywhere like a sprinkler as they clawed the flesh from one another’s bones.

“Dog pile!” April screamed. She and Melody joined the melee. They were a dervish of gnashing teeth and scratching nails. Bones broke. Arteries ruptured. Seth ate Melody’s lower lip. April and Melody tore Sean’s stomach open, heads diving into his bowels like two dogs at a dish of fresh Alpo.

They felt something smash into their backs.

April yelped as Ben pulled a fistful of hair from her head. Bloody skin clung to the ragged ends.

“You’re it again!” he gurgled.

The children laughed, trailing Seth’s intestines all around the yard, wrapping it around the trunk of a cherry tree. Seth let out a series of wet guffaws, jaws snapping at their heels as they danced around him.

The Mowry’s verdant lawn soaked up the crimson manna until the sounds of urgent adult voices cut the revelry, urging the children home.

They slunk out of the yard, gathering the bits of themselves that had been scattered about.

“After dinner, you wanna come over and see my training bra?” April asked Melody, her tongue poking out of a hole in her cheek.

“Yeah,” Melody said, holding her lips in her hands. “See you later!”

“I’m sorry,” Ben said. April could see his windpipe working. “I shouldn’t have hit you in the boob.”

April rolled her remaining eye. “Whatever.”

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.

Monarch-Man

“I am a winged creature who is too rarely allowed to use its wings. Ecstasies do not occur often enough.” Anais Nin

It has gone midnight when I cross the park but he is quite visible by the street lamp. Stick limbs. Wild hair. The sickly-sweet scent of honey. He is filthy and beautiful, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor of Flies.

I have been following him for months now. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has been lost to his search. Rather, it has been lost to my search for him. He takes no part in my hunt. I would be surprised if he knew that I sought him at all. But I had, I have; from the first moment I set eyes on him, crawling from the tube station.

I alone watched him tumble through the turnstiles and into the street. He reached the curb on his side of the road at the same time that I did on mine. I could not have said what it was about him that made me stop and stare, but stare I did. For a second he lingered there, hovering on the spot between pavement and road. Lifting a bare foot, he seemed to test the air, as though tasting the city with his soles. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fluttered to the gutter.

He looked small at the roadside, smaller even than I was sure he was. His coat was much too large, and I was reminded of a child wearing his father’s clothes. In another life he might have been carved from marble; smooth lips, blonde hair, eyes vast and shadowed in the hollows of his face. But he was no classical beauty. His skin was pale and marred with fatigue. Hunger had made him lean, and in a darker street I might have mistaken him for a woman. A taxi braked beside him, its headlights in his face, and for one moment his eyes shone like gold. Then he recoiled, his hands flying to his face, and the taxi drove on.

I saw him many times after that first encounter. Perhaps it was chance. Perhaps it was that face. I can see it now, upturned to the street-lamp, bathed in the orange glow. I see his tight lips, his dusty skin. His eyes are like two orbs of polished stone. I see myself in them a thousand times over, growing larger as I approach through the park.

The third time we met was at rush hour. That day I had waited for him, and I thought my heart might burst when I saw him stagger from the station. A dozen men and women swept after him, throwing his face back at me from the polished toes of their black shoes. It was the evening commute, the streets busy, and his reflection was a hall of mirrors in their gleaming footwear. I am not sure that he saw himself, whether he can see at all, in fact, but I saw. Standing outside the large bank on the opposite side of the road, I listened to the drone of traffic and the chatter of conversation and the raw voice of the Lebanese singer on the street corner, and I saw his face a hundred times over.

When I think back to the dozens of times I have seen him, it is easy to imagine the world fast-forwarding around me. I see streets filled with blurred shapes as people speed home, streaming through the city in a black tide of business suits and smart shoes. Traffic becomes one long course of light and motion; a film strip racing on a reel. Everything stretches and grows, even the dying sun melting in the sky, except for the man on the pavement, my Monarch-Man, the Emperor of Fractured Faces.

The Lebanese singer frequents the station at least as much as me. I suspect she does well for herself there. On those occasions when we are both there at the same time, her songs carry clearly across the street, made stronger by a microphone, and I imagine her voice is the wind. Sometimes I turn to her while passion spills from her mouth. Her eyes are usually closed while she sings. Seeing this, I close my eyes too and allow myself to be carried away by her voice. The sound is heat and flowers and dry summer air. I can smell roses, taste honey on my tongue. When I open my eyes again, I am always staring at the man in the gutter.

I fancy that I can smell roses now. It is not an impossible notion, in the park, and yet I know rose-beds are not the source. In thirty seconds I will be standing underneath the street lamp beside him. It will be the closest we have ever been to each other, and I imagine it is honey making my throat stick. Outwardly he is no different to the dozens of other homeless men and women whom I have encountered throughout my life in the city. His clothes are soiled but well-cared for. This close, I can see that rips in his jeans have been neatly stitched. The jeans themselves are faded almost to death. As I marvel at the needlework at his kneecaps, I wonder if he stitched them himself, or if he knows someone who fixes them on his behalf. I wonder how much the jeans mean to him, and when the last time was that he took them off. I wonder if I have ever cared about anything as much as he must care about the denim on his legs. I know that I have, because I have found him.

He smiles as I swarm in his eyes, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor. I smile back. Slowly he turns from the street lamp to face me. His arms are thin, bare bones really, concealed inside the loose sleeves of his old coat. I do not know for sure that the coat is old but it looks it; beige and filthy and treasured. He shifts slightly and I think I glimpse colour; a vivid flash revealed by his collar. I glimpse other things, too, under the coat, under the flesh, too much for me to take in all at once: the flailing limbs of a drowning spider, an egg as it cracks and drips with bright yolk, the sound of the egg’s shell as it breaks open and the crunch of mandibles and a cloud of butterflies, swirling silently over a flowering field. In the face of him, and in the fractured surfaces of his eyes, I am annihilated a million times over.

I realise I am cowering on the floor. My heart rages against my aching ribs. The first I feel of his touch is his hand against my own. I know it’s not a hand in the true sense, any more than those are fingers clasping mine, but that is what I can liken it to most. His fingers slide up my arm, dry and smooth like velveteen laces, until they come to rest beneath my chin. They hover there briefly, stroking my neck, their featheriness soft against my skin, before gently lifting me upwards. Then he takes my hand again, and together we dance around the street lamp, and the night whispers with wing-beats.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved

Damned Words 11

lantern

A Reason
Joseph A. Pinto

I found a reason to walk tween the folds of winter’s shawl, so hand in hand go we along Perdition’s Road. Shall we burn, we burn as one; shall we suffer, then know love cores the depths of our wounds. Lace your trembling fingers round my neck and your burdens I shall carry. I’ve no need to burn this lantern’s oils for our demons come well-known. Let them swirl in the dark, guttering til gone. Death is tenant of our path, yet tonight she’ll know no coin. My life I mortgage for yours; take flight now against my sky.


Nightfall
Nina D’Arcangela

Torn and bloodied, she huddles against the lantern’s pedestal fighting for a life already lost. Broken in spirit, broken in heart, she watches as they circle, awaiting night’s fall. Not taken on the last, she knows this eve she’ll not be so lucky. Day is already beginning to dim; the heavens darken. Having sought solace in the flicker of a dying flame, the whispers in her mind reassure no salvation will be granted. Darker than the deepening hue of the foreboding sky, they watch. The lantern struggles to glow, then gutters out. Her hope vanquished, they descend. The feast begins.


Monarch-Man
Thomas Brown

It had gone midnight when I crossed the park but he was quite visible by the street lamp. Stick limbs. Wild hair. The sickly-sweet scent of honey. He was filthy and beautiful.

Upturned, his pale face bathed in the orange glow. I saw his tight lips, his dusty skin. His eyes were like two orbs of polished stone. I saw myself in them a thousand times over, growing larger as I approached.

He smiled as I swarmed in his eyes, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor. I smiled back. Together we danced around the street lamp, and the night whispered with wing-beats.


Welcome to New Orleans
Zack Kullis

James glanced at the last gas lantern as they followed the old Haitian woman. Its light seemed to warn of coming darkness, fluttering and pointing away from the famed priestess. They had asked her for a taste of local voodoo, thinking it was bullshit until the old woman turned in the darkness of an alley and blew powder into their faces.

“Coupe poudre,” she whispered with a grin.

He pawed at his face until his legs buckled. Unable to move, James gazed with unblinking eyes as the voodoo priestess stooped close to his face.

“Welcome to New Orleans, my pet.”


Color Me Gray
Blaze McRob

It’s another gray winter evening, bereft of color, even the moonlight not distinct. And the light at the end of the old rock wall? Colorless. The sky blind to its presence.

The leaf-less trees pass his word through their twitching branches. He is pissed. Revenge is on his mind. Those who would destroy what he created must pay the price.

A giant pallet, held between his enormous hands, continues to draw all colors other than gray to it.

Armageddon will be much easier now. The lack of color already depresses them.

Great moans come from everywhere as the beasts attack.


High Society
Hunter Shea

“It’s the one right there”
“Where? I can barely see.”
“The one with the old gas lamp.”
The crowbar made quick work of the rusty mausoleum door. Bitter fall wind knifed through the opening.
“Help me with this.”
They chipped away at the cement covering, dumping the coffin on the floor.
“Shhh, you’ll wake the dead!”
They both tittered.
The coffin lid opened with an eerie squeal. The corpse looked like jerky, smelled rancid.
“You first.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
He lowered his open maw on the corpse’s face.
Eaters of the Dead Society was not for the squeamish.


Flicker
Jon Olson

This city stands tall, desolate, and lifeless like the trees against the sunless sky. More empty concrete; more of the same. Nothing. Perched atop the corner on a forgotten wall, a lamp. Encased and protected by a small cage. The glass bulb intact, untouched by history. I imagine it glowing; a beacon of hope in dark and despair. Wait! What was that? Did it just… my God, it did! The filament lit up! I swear it flickered. Do it again! The bulb had blinked once… teasing me. Flicker again! Please do it again! Damn it, I need this. God, please…


The Game
Craig McGray

Once a beacon of hope, the lanterns go unlit now. In a new world, where few things are guaranteed and only death is certain, he scours what remains of the charred earth for the precious few that have somehow survived the scorching heat, famine, and disease that has spread across the globe. They think they’re surviving, fools every one of them, but he’ll track them down; the ultimate hunter. When the demon and his ebony stallion finds them, they’ll wish they’d perished like the others. For the game has only one survivor and he rides atop a fleshless black beast.


Raven
Magenta Nero

I pace in the street light, my heels click a numbing tune. Many drive past, slowing down, hungry eyes gawking, but it’s just not their time.

The chosen one rolls up, engine humming. I get a blank stare when I smile and say “My service is free.”

His face drains of colour as it dawns. The irrevocable darkness is a rising tide within, a slow choking. I shriek excitedly as he passes over. My wings burst open, eager to deliver him. The judgement is always a feast of pain. Few are redeemed. Snatching his soul in my beak, I soar.


Ne’er To Be Seen Again
Tyr Kieran

Under this post, he lay slumped against the cold stone wall; bleeding, appropriately ripped open. I watch the pain swell in his eyes and it widens my smile. I had not reason to smile in weeks—not since the woman I loved had been murdered in a savage manner. Despite her being of ill repute, I planned to marry. But on a night like tonight, with ring waiting in my pocket, I happened upon her torn body in the street. He took her from me. And now, I’ve taken him away from Whitechapel, ne’er to be seen in London again.


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.

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