Private Wilhelm Hausser stood trembling, and for the first time it wasn’t because of the perpetual screams from behind the door of his post or the gruesome state of the bodies he was tasked to drag out and dispose of each day. This time, his body shook under a flood of adrenaline invoked by a different type of scream.
In an echoing torrent, Hausser’s commanding officer scolded him between gasps of air. Lieutenant Altstacht’s frame jerked and twitched with each exclamation, engorged veins pulsing in his neck, but his right hand held firm—the hand holding the loaded 9mm Luger inches from Wilhelm’s face.
“…unacceptable. You will face severe repercussions!”
Both men dripped sweat and struggled to keep their breath as the situation escalated. The other solider, on post opposite Wilhelm, pressed himself against the wall, doing his best to become invisible.
None of them noticed the clopping footsteps approach until they stopped. Private Hausser’s eyes drifted to the waiting group of men. Their identity was unmistakable—black uniforms emblazoned with dual lightning bolt letters and a silver skull glimmering atop their helmets. Wilhelm, in sync with the other Private, jolted into a rigged stance, their complexions more pallid, their right arms raised.
“…either astounding ignorance or an utter lack of—” Alstacht’s existence froze. Then, he lowered the pistol and snapped into a salute.
One man broke from the group and faced the officer with a clack of his heels. “At ease, Lieutenant. What is the disturbance here?”
“M-my Führer, I am honored by your presence. My sincerest apologies for the disruption,” Alstacht said with the lowered gaze of a scolded child.
“Nonsense, I am a man of the people and I wish to help. Please, enlighten me.”
“The… uh, Private here, was being reprimanded for failure to follow orders and repeated offenses of unauthorized attire in disrespect of the uniform.”
“Hmm, yes, this is not good. What is the exact offense?”
The Lieutenant’s posture straightened and his voice now held much of the strength it had prior to the group’s arrival. “Repeated exposure of a necklace promoting unauthorized symbols—the Christian cross and some other nonsensical medallion. The solider had been warned previously of such an offense.”
The Führer walked over to Hausser and lifted the charms in the palm of his hand for a closer inspection. With a swipe of his thumb, he brushed the cross aside to view the medallion—a pewter cast of three interlocking horns. The Führer glanced at the Private before returning to Alstacht’s side.
“And, what was the decided punishment?”
“The official punishment for insubordination is death, my Führer,” the Lieutenant answered and retrained his pistol on Hausser.
“I see,” Hitler said, pursing his lips. “It is a shameful loss, but rules are rules.”
Then, gesturing to Alstacht with an open hand, he inquired, “May I?”
“Of course, my Führer.”
Hitler raised the pistol and locked eyes with Private Hausser. In a calm, swift motion, he turned to the Lieutenant and pulled the trigger.
Alstacht’s body crumpled to the floor.
“Now, let me be clear,” the Führer announced, “ignorance is unforgivable. No situation can be defined by the black and white of a rule book.” Hitler then gripped Hausser’s shoulder. “Forgive the misunderstanding. Please, come with me and tell me why you wear Odin’s symbol.”
The two men walked down the long corridor with the SS marching behind them. Hausser had similar features to those in the SS and stood at least eight inches taller than their leader.
“My grandmother raised me on both the pre and post-Christian Norse religion. I wear them to honor her and to honor the Gods.”
“Do not those symbols clash?”
“No, my Führer, I believe that there is a closer connection than currently known. I believe they are both based on an older mythos.”
“Ha,” Hitler laughed aloud, which caused more than a few widened eyes behind them. “Private, you were quite underutilized.”
After a few turns through the complex, they approached a heavily guarded door. The soldiers on post saluted as they crossed the threshold.
The room was massive. Broken into several areas, it looked to contain functions of a library, a science laboratory, a museum, and an odd variation of a church sanctuary. Nazi regalia lined the walls and men were hard at work in all sections.
Hitler led them across the main hall and into the Library’s archive examination room, waiving off salutes as they went. A small team of scholars hovered around a book laid open at the table’s center as they took notes and referenced other texts. They dropped everything and gave salute. One of them, after receiving the return salute, approached the Führer. His complexion reddened and beads of sweat formed across his brow as he waited for Hitler to speak.
“Dr. Bunzel, I have not received Himmler’s report on the new item.”
“My Führer, please forgive the delay. We have translated portions of the manuscripts and are only now able to run some tests on its accuracy and potential.” The doctor gestured to the sanctuary at the far end of the great hall where men looked to be preparing for a ceremony with lighted candles and incense.
“Pnakotic,” Hausser spoke softly, an unintentional word falling from his lips as he peeked over Bunzel’s shoulder to the book in the examination room.
Both men stopped and looked at him.
“Is that the Pnakotic Manuscripts?”
The doctor’s mouth dropped open, his gaze shifting from the young soldier to the Führer and back.
“Dr. Bunzel,” Hitler said with a smirk, “meet Private Wilhelm Hausser.”
“You know of the manuscripts?” the doctor asked.
“I-I never knew if they were real or myth, but, yes. It was said by Norse mystics that the manuscripts held the true origin of the Gods… all the Gods that we now see as different religions. They are all incarnations—representations diluted by the framework of human sanity—of the true supreme beings that rule over our existence.”
“How do you know this?”
“Are the manuscripts penned in Old Norse or the elder language?”
“It’s, uh, Duriac, or, as you say, the elder language,” Dr. Bunzel answered, still slow in finding his words as he stared with a pinched expression. “What else do you know about the manuscripts?”
“I’ve heard there is a Norse version, lost chapters of the Sagas, emblazoned with the tangled image of Jormungandr. But, this creature is not the spawn of Loki as the mythology is told. That serpent of the sea is but an appendage of the true being—a much older, horrific creature of inconceivable context and power—one of the Elder Gods. The manuscripts offer historical reference, but also passages of worship and incantation. Norse mystics included words of warning as well, safeguards so to speak, that were not in the originals texts. I urge you to not—”
Excited voices from across the hall grew loud enough to demand their attention. One of the scholars, clad in a heavy robe, shouted at the altar with his arms outstretched. A breeze swirled through the room, ruffling the large Nazi banners and threatening to extinguish the candle flames. The man slowed, hesitating in his incantation. He searched through the translated documents with a frantic flipping of pages.
A deep rumbling sound emerged as the floor shuddered.
“This can’t be good,” Hausser said and cursed under his breath as he leapt forward, snatched the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and sprinted toward the sanctuary.
“Hey!” the doctor objected.
The group rushed to follow the young Private. When they arrived at the edge of the church, Hausser was there, already paging through the manuscripts.
“You can read them?” Dr. Bunzel asked.
“Not entirely, but I may know enough,” Hausser said without looking up.
The makeshift priest shouted a sequence of ancient words and the tremors stopped; a moment of calm hung heavy in the room with a wide eyed look of confusion on all the faces. Then, booming from all directions, a voice of grinding stone and thunder replied to the incantation.
“Hasyrath r’ylek n’gklul.”
The scholars rifled through their notes arguing in harsh whispers.
With no direct reply, the monstrous voice spoke again.
“It’s saying something about, uh, a true gift,” Hausser said, drawing the attention of those around him. He stood squeezing his eyes shut, scouring his memory for a better understanding of the language. “No wait, it’s asking for a worthy offering.”
“Ph’nglui kadishtu ehye fhtagn r’lyehoth, gnaiih mnahn fhtagn.”
“No blood sacrifice was given,” Hausser translated, “so blood he shall take.”
They all stared at the Private, waiting, hoping he’d correct his translation.
Just as Hitler moved to voice an inquiry, the makeshift priest screamed and dropped to his knees. He held his face in his hands as blood oozed out between his fingers. After a moment, his shrieks dwindled until he knelt in near silence, his heaving breaths the only sound in the entire hall.
A lone scientist approached the priest with great caution, each of his footsteps placed with visible hesitance. He knelt down next to the man and, with a craned neck and a gentle hand upon his shoulder as if consoling a lost child, he offered to help.
The priest removed his hands from his face and reached out to the scientist. A gasp flowed through the crowd of onlookers as his empty eye sockets were revealed. The two men rose to their feet and the scientist waved to the soldiers for assistance. The priest, instead of reaching for support on the other man’s shoulders, clutched the scientist’s head and cackled wildly as he squeezed. In a matter of seconds his hands, now covered in blood and grey matter, found each other.
Screams erupted throughout the hall.
The soldiers skidded to a halt a few feet away and immediately readied their rifles. With gore dripping from his outstretched fingers, the priest turned to face them and they opened fire. A series of bullets riddled his chest, their impact jostled his body, but he kept shambling toward them. Then, in a voice like screams amid a buzzing storm of insects, he spoke to them, “R’lyehoth mnahn fhtagn.”
The soldiers crept back again, trying to keep a safe distance, but the priest, with only a sweeping gesture, sent them and all to the floor, clutching their helmets and writhing in agony.
Full panic hit the room. Scientist and scholars ran for cover and shoved past each other to reach the exits. The SS core formed a barrier around the Führer and fired at the possessed priest.
“Found it!” Hausser shouted. Ignoring the gunshots and the urgent questions from Dr. Bunzel, the Private stepped out of the crowd and approached the altar. He grabbed a silver saucer, brushed off the incense ash, and rushed over to the scientist’s corpse. As he fought down the rising bile in his throat, he scooped up brains and blood with his bare hands to load up the offering plate. On the floor at the base of the alter he drew symbols in blood that looked like variations of three interlocked triangles and modified pentagrams with a central eye.
By that time the SS had inflicted enough damage to the priest’s skull, spine, and torso to render him little more than an abstract pile of hot meat. As they sighed their relief and reloaded their weapons, the five victims of the priest, rose to carry out the will of their possessor.
Renewed gunfire thrummed in Hausser’s peripheral attention, but he remained focused. He stood between the blood-drawn symbols, with the offering plate held high, and called to the Ancient Ones.
“Vulgtlagln naep vulgtm shtunggli zhro ee naR’lyeh”
The complex shook violently and the thundering voice replied, “Nilgh’ri sll’ha vulgtm ilyaa li’hee. Ehye fhtagn.”
Hausser’s shoulders slumped. He turned to look at the human chaos behind him. More death bloomed through the hall as people trampled each other and soldiers succumbed to the possessed corpses, while all those screams from the experiment ward echoed through his mind. Should he end this, or was it deserved punishment? No one in the entire complex could be considered innocent, he thought, but this curse, their wrath, would quickly spread beyond these walls if he didn’t abide.
Moral agony twisted his face as he decided his fate and theirs.
Tears slid down his cheeks. With a clenched jaw, he set down the saucer and sought out the closest scholar. A woman, trying to flee the possessed soldiers, ran along the sanctuary’s edge toward the main entrance. Hausser grabbed her lab coat and pulled her over to the altar. Breathing heavy through gritted teeth, he snatch a dagger from the altar, held it against her neck, and shouted, “Vulgtm ehye fhtagn li’hee.”
Then, in one swift movement, he yanked her hair back and slit her throat.
Her blood sprayed him as much as it did the offering plates.
The tremors stopped.
The possessed soldiers, collapsed, returning to their state of death.
An odd calm fell over the hall.
Hitler, with the remaining SS in tow, approached Hausser and shook his hand with vigor, “I knew you were special. Excellent work, young Hausser! You shall be commended and given proper reward.”
“My Führer, I—”
“Never mind that. With the right incantations, might we control the… Gods?”
“My Führer,” Hausser replied with a creased expression of fret, “we are extremely lucky to have contained them for the time being. Control will never be an option.”
“Special Lieutenant Hausser, your responsibility going forward is to contain the powers behind today’s events, and to report directly to me with any variance,” Hitler said, then turned to Dr. Bunzel. “Doctor, you and your team will continue to seek a method of control and experiment toward such. This power, if harnessed, would deliver to us all nations and allow a proper ethnic cleansing for the dawn of the Aryan race! This is of the highest priority. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, my Führer. Sieg Heil!”
Wilhelm Hausser watched the survivors march away with smiles on their faces as if a treasure was uncovered. All he could think about, with the day’s violence joining the nightmare menagerie of his memories, was the question: who was the true terror, the malignant Gods, or mankind itself?
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Why must I feel so utterly shattered when smashed upon your jagged edge? Why can you not let me fall into the beautifully delicious pain that exists inside you – pain that has been waiting for me to find it for so very long? You hide such an exquisitely luring anguish from me, thinking I cannot see it – but I see it with my very essence – my entire being; I see it in the blink of your depthless eyes even when not at your side; I feel it in every breath you draw whether that breath be taken roughly in my ear or drawn in a spat of anger at all the world has made of you. I long so desperately to be near you, to revel in your darkest pangs, your deepest wounds, your most hidden crevasses where your shadows stretch the longest.
My soul is no longer in my own keeping as it has already been fully engulfed by you – it is given with utter bliss and unhindered submission, bowing to your every whim and fancy. My pain is yours to have, my pleasure yours to give or withhold. I beg of you to open your shadowed darkness and let me submerge myself, gulping it in as though it were my own life’s breath; for it is, as I cannot be without you any longer.
Give to me all that I would allow you to take from one so undeserving as I. I offer you a glimpse of the salvation you have sought at only the cost of my own damnation. Why must you hide in a darkness you feel is precious only to you? My darkness is equal to that of yours and calls out in pain to touch, to merge, to become one with that mournful depth which dwells within you.
Ahhh, tears burn my eyes to think of the ecstasy that awaits the lost such as we. Am I never to attain such glorious freedom while you exist in your own self-imposed exile? Be all to me that your inner demon demands I be to you, suffocate me with your needs; for I need not the air I breathe so much as I need the nearness of the beast that rages within you. Your touch, your embrace, your longing – your anger, your angst, and your pain; these things are my gleaming gems, my most sacred desires – the currency of an aching soul unearthed from the roughest of stone I did not know existed before you.
Drag me into an eternity of damnation where I will languish in your exquisite tenderness… a tenderness that rends my heart to pieces and releases the overwhelming restraint I have kept in check for what seems all of time. Strip away my mask and bare my most inner desires that I am not able to unleash with any other than you. Take me farther into the reaches of madness that will consume what is left of my sanity for I need not think when you are near, I must only be.
This is my treasured wish; this is my undisguised want; this is what you have made of me. Be for me, as I am only for you…
© Copyright 2015 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved
“C’mon, Greg! We gotta stash this loot!”
“Why here, for Christ’s sake, Len? This place gives me the fucking creeps!”
“In case you can’t hear too well, dip-wad, the police sirens are blaring all over the place. If we’re caught with the cash, it’s our asses!”
“But this is the cemetery. It ain’t right!”
“What wouldn’t be right is us sitting in a cell with Bubba wanting to pound our butts. I ain’t into that Hershey stuff.”
“And I suppose I am, huh?”
“I’m not saying you are. We hide the stash and vamoose. When the coast is clear, we come back and get it.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. This place is filled with dead people. They won’t care. It’s not like we’re going to desecrate their graves or anything.”
“Okay, but I don’t like it.”
The two men look around, searching for the perfect place: a spot easy enough to conceal the money and their guns, but one that will not present hardships to retrieve it later.
Tonight the cemetery is well lit from the light of a huge full moon and no clouds to speak of. Caution. Yes, care must be taken so they are not seen. No one frequents the place now, but who knows? The cops are scouring everywhere. What’s to stop them from coming here?
Less than an hour ago, they had held-up the convenience store, pistol-whipping the clerk and emptying the cash drawer. Len had gone into the office and busted the safe open. Nothing like having some experience with such things. Greg had been upset over the condition of the clerk, but the idiot refused to hand over the loot and Len had lost it, rushing into a vicious attack on his skull, the sounds of breaking bone ripping through the store. When the money had been stashed away in Len’s backpack, the two thieves checked on the cashier. Too late for him. The bloody pulp that had formerly been the pleasant, cheerful face of Tony Sturbridge, was unrecognizable now.
The stench of feces filled the store, combined with that of piss. Tony had unloaded his bowels and bladder when death came a-knocking. The blood, still pouring from his head, completed the grisly picture. Greg stayed far away from the body, tasting the Death in the room, the sensation of their evil deed running rampant around them.
Somehow, the cops were on their way in a hurry, not even allowing the two of them time to get back to their car that was parked a few blocks away in front of an apartment complex. No one could pin the duo to the crime by association with the vehicle.
“Okay, Len, just where do we stash this shit? C’mon, answer man.”
“Just shut the fuck up! We’ll find a place. I’ll look. You keep your eyes open for the cops.”
Tiptoeing around the markers and stones, Len finds what appears to be a floating section of grass about three feet square around the base of a huge oak. He works his fingers around the edges and gaining a finger-hold, he pulls it up.
“Look at this, Greg! This grass chunk is like a trap door or something. I wonder where it goes?”
He feels around and finds a wooden structure. With the help of Greg, he lifts it up and is overwhelmed from the stench coming out of the opening beneath them. “Holy shit! What’s that odor, Greg?! It’s putrid!”
Greg is in no shape to answer him, not with his insides trying to come up through his esophagus. Struggling to hold back the onslaught of puke doesn’t work and soon he and Len both are covered in his bile-rich vomit.
“Damn it, Greg! That’s fucking disgusting . . .”
His words are cut short as two huge hands reach up from below, grabbing him, and cutting into his arms with long, sharp nails. In one swift move, he is pulled beneath the ground, the sudden attack putting him into a state of shock. His adversary laughs and seemingly finds every little rock and root to drag him across.
Trying to focus through his vomit encased vision, Greg sees but doesn’t see what happened to Len. Spitting out some of the crap in his throat and mouth, he shouts, “Where are you, Len?! What’s going on?”
He doesn’t have to wait long for an answer as something from behind places its huge foot on his ass and kicks him into the hole. Greg tries to stop his rapid descent but has no luck. He’s in some sort of a shaft. It’s steep, and when he hits bottom, he lands hard.
Algol jumps in after him, taking the slab of wood along. He pulls down on the grass concealment, firmly putting it back in place and forces the plank of wood into the ground, effectively concealing the entry. No one will find the opening.
Len and Greg are dragged to the chamber that until recently was his lonely home. Now he shares it with Lillith and things are so much better. Not only do they share their unique tastes in cuisine, but the amorous adventures foreign to them for so long are engaged in day after day, night after night. Neither of them tires of their pursuits of sexual pleasure.
However, other pleasures are now awaiting the Ghoulish couple: fresh meat before them, a terrified duo just now realizing where they are, and while not fully recognizing the horror of the situation, knowing that nothing good is about to happen.
The sweat of the damned pours from Len as Lillith hovers over him, her long, scraggly hair and yellowish-black teeth staring him in his face. She smiles, not at all upset by his panic. In fact, she recognizes it for what it is and basks in the joy of her dinner’s agony. Spittle from the sides of her mouth fall into his eyes, causing him to scream out in pain as her acidic saliva burns deep into him.
“Does that hurt, you little bastard? Maybe there should be a lot more pain given to you,” she says. “After all, you could have cared less about the pain you subjected Tony to.”
What the fuck?! The ugliness of this creature, illuminated by a flashlight that fell out of Len’s pocket, terrifies him: naked, covered with hair, drooling. She approaches closer and closer, her breasts drooping down, almost to his mouth, the very thought of them that close disgusting him.
“Oh, you don’t like the way I look! Well, my friend, you’re not going to look too good yourself in a few minutes. Maybe if you say you’re sorry I’ll take pity on you and not kill you too fast. Yeah, maybe.”
A rat scoots across Len’s forehead, sending more shivers down his frame. He jerks upward as hard as he can, trying to shove Lillith off him. She plays along for a few seconds, allowing him to move her up, but uses the time to tear his clothes off him. Len goes berserk with fear as she starts nibbling on his neck, taking tiny little bites, the acid attacking the wounds burning like nothing he has ever felt before.
“So you don’t like my little pet,” Lillith says. “He likes you. Watch.”
She picks the rodent up and places it on Len’s neck. It sniffs around, whiskers creating a picture on his neck, the blood acting as paint. The pet drives the killer to spasmodic jerking. He wants it off him; he hates rats.
“Mama says it’s okay to feed, my precious. I will share my dinner with you.”
Understanding Lillith, the rat buries its teeth into the wounds, sucking up blood and nibbling away as Len screams in pain. Once it has eaten his fill, it hops off contentedly and scurries through the piles of clothing stacked everywhere in this Ghoulish love nest.
Lillith rubs her body all over Len as she goes back to feeding on him, the pain driving him to the edge of insanity. Smiling before she puts her lips on his, she forces the taste of her on his lips and tongue, adding to his agony as he forces the wretched affliction from his mouth, spitting it back at her. Lillith reacts violently by biting his lips off, chewing on them before his horrified eyes.
Greg, stricken with panic watching his friend being eaten alive, tries to escape, but Algol tears off his right arm and slaps him in the face with it. As he screams in pain, knowing now their fates are sealed, Algol says, “Welcome to the party, Greg. No way could we leave you out of this fun.”
Lillith and Algol slowly eat away at the two men, enjoying their struggles and the taste of fresh meat – so much better than decayed flesh. Watching each other tease and taste the two vermin drives the Ghouls to a feeding frenzy and they pass the two back and forth between them. When Len is almost dead they both eat away at him from different ends of his body, meeting in the middle and disemboweling him in unison.
Len’s life force is gone.
Greg, forced to watch this attack on his friend, is unable to move. He is resigned to his fate; he does not have long to wait. Lillith reaches in with her hideous claws and tears his heart out. One last shudder and it’s all over for him.
Their little pet returns to partake of more as Lillith finishes eating Greg’s heart.
Algol looks at his mate, other feelings stirring once more in his loins. She returns his look and smiles.
“You know, Lillith,” he says, “this human rabble doesn’t understand that crime doesn’t pay.”
~ Blaze McRob
© Copyright 2015 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.
George Sutherland followed Francine McKenna farther into the forest. His interest in Sasquatch had led him to join the Nova Scotia Bigfoot Hunters Society. When he met the group’s leader Francine, however, his priority instantly became to get into her pants. When she asked him to go with her on a short overnight expedition, he saw it as good a chance as any.
Only one tent for the two of them.
“Come on,” Francine said, looking over her shoulder. “Pick up the pace back there.”
Her red hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and although her cheeks were red from the excursion through the woods, George could still see her freckles. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Easy for you to say,” George said adjusting his backpack straps. “I’m the one carrying all of the heavy shit.”
“I can give you the lighter one if that one is too heavy for you. I bet the rest of the group would love to hear about that.”
George made a face but increased his speed, trying to catch up to her.
Clouds were slowly overtaking the blue sky that had been present earlier in the morning when they parked on the side of the logging road and ventured into the woods. Some blue jays chirping in the trees suddenly darted out, catching George’s attention. He didn’t see his boot catch the exposed root and fell forward with the weight of the backpack forcing him to the ground.
Francine laughed. “Are you okay?”
“Fuck sakes,” George said, pushing himself off the ground. “Where is the rest of the team anyways?”
“Matt and Ryder had to work and Beverly’s out of town visiting family. They’re going to regret not coming out on this one.”
“So exactly why are we out here? Why this particular area?”
Francine looked at him. “You mean besides living up to the NSBHS’s name?” She took out her cellphone, opened some files and handed it to George. “An old friend of mine, Bryan who works as a harvester for Triple L Lumber, sent me these photographs.”
The first few photos George flipped through consisted of large footprints in the ground and at the end were shots of reddish-brown fur snagged on tree branches.
“Those pictures were taken by different employees all within this eighty hectare plot,” Francine said. “They all reported experiencing a strong, foul odor like a combination of a skunk and wet dog as well as hearing loud grunts and sticks banging against trees. All classic evidence of Bigfoot.”
George frowned. “I know that I’m still relatively new to the group but we get dozens of emails from people with pictures like this, claiming to have seen Bigfoot. What makes these more special or significant?”
“There’s also been some other strange things going on up here. If you scroll to the end of the photos, you’ll see one that’s not related to Sasquatch at all.”
George found the photo she was referring to and looked at it.
There were four impressions in all, with two distinct prints. The first set was the smaller of the two with what looked like three knuckles side by side. The larger ones also had three knuckles and were further out to the sides. They also had small indentations that resembled bear claws.
“It kind of looks like whatever made these was running,” George said. He handed the phone back to Francine. “The way they are laid out reminds me of the way a gorilla runs.”
George undid his backpack straps and slid them off his shoulders.
He squatted down and then pushed off with his knuckles, landing on his feet and repeated for a few feet so Francine could see what he meant. She looked at the pictures, then at the slight impressions George had made in the ground and back to her phone.
“I can see it,” she said. “If we can find more evidence of this we may have something new for the cryptozoology books.”
It was sore from the struggle its previous prey had put up.
Unable to see, it relied on its sharp sense of smell that was still filled with the skunk-like smell of its previous meal. It was about to move on when it picked up on something else.
The smell was faint but recognizable.
They trudged on, venturing deeper into the forest. The air was cool, yet humid, as summer was refusing to hand its reigns over to autumn.
“I’ve always enjoyed the smells of the woods,” Francine said. “It smells alive.”
“The bugs have always kept me away from walking amongst the trees,” George said. “Fucking things.”
“They don’t seem to be too bad now.”
George realized that he hadn’t heard the high-pitched buzzing in his ear for a while. He also noticed that the birds didn’t seem to be chirping either.
“Why is it so quiet?” George asked.
Francine looked at him, listened and shrugged with little concern for the silence.
They walked on and in the pit of his stomach, George thought it felt wrong. He opened his mouth to mention it but didn’t want to ruin his chances.
The trees started to thin out, which George was thankful for as it made walking easier. Eventually, they entered a clearing and were immediately hit by a strong stink.
“Holy shit, what the hell is that…?” George said covering his nose with his hand.
“It kind of smells like a skunk,” George said.
He looked at Francine and even though the smell was bothering her, she seemed to get excited.
“Sasquatch is reported to have a skunk-like smell,” she said.
“Or it could just be a skunk.”
“No, this is different. It’s really thick and… it does seem to have a wet dog scent to it.”
Although he smelled it too, George shook his head. “To me it still smells like a skunk, possibly a dead one, but a skunk nonetheless.”
“Let’s go find the source,” Francine said.
The clearing was roughly the size of a football field. An assortment of bushes had sprung up sporadically with a few small spruce trees here and there amongst the tall grass.
George started after her and immediately felt his body break out in goose bumps. He stopped and looked around. Something about the clearing made him feel very uneasy.
“Maybe we should…”
He was cut off by Francine yelling with excitement in her voice.
“Oh my God! George, get your ass over here! Hurry!”
She was standing near the far tree line, waving her arms frantically.
“Did you find the skunk?” George asked as he got closer.
Near the edge of the clearing was a body lying on its back, its arms jutting straight out to the side. It was covered in reddish-brown fur that fluttered in a gentle breeze except for the face, which was clean shaven. The eyelids were open slightly but the eyes had rolled back into its head with a wide, flat nose sitting just below them. Its mouth was slightly agape, showing yellowed teeth.
The body of a Sasquatch.
It could tell it was getting closer; the human scent was everywhere. Very faintly, it could hear their voices.
Its pace quickened.
“I don’t fucking believe it,” George said.
“Do you know what this means?” Francine asked. “Get the camera out.”
“I still don’t believe what I’m seeing.”
“You can don’t believe all you want later.” Francine slipped the backpack off her shoulders. “Get the camera out and start shooting!”
George’s eyes, and brain, were still trying to comprehend exactly what they had stumbled across. He removed his backpack and let it fall to the ground hard.
“Hey, come on. Pay attention to what you’re doing.” She took her cellphone out of her backpack and began dialing.
“I’m going to give the rest of the team a call.”
George squatted down and began unzipping his backpack, but didn’t take his eyes off of the body. It was well over nine feet and the beast’s frame looked powerful.
His hands found the camera and he pulled it out. He turned it on, shifted his eyes from the body to the LCD screen and began taking pictures.
“Damn it,” Francine said. “I can’t get a signal out here.”
As he walked closer to the body, George zoomed in on the Sasquatch’s arms and noticed a puncture wound on each one. The fur and skin seemed to have been pushed to the sides. A hole, roughly the diameter of a pencil, penetrated through the tissue underneath.
“I really can’t believe that this is lying right in front of us,” Francine said. She knelt down beside the Sasquatch and held her hand out, hesitating to touch it. “This is incredible.”
As he took a few more pictures, George noticed the ground around the body was beaten down. A lot of the tall grass had been broken, as if it buckled underneath something heavy. Scattered around the ground were clumps of the Sasquatch’s fur.
To him, it looked like a fight had taken place.
George lowered the camera and looked at her. “It doesn’t look like it died from natural causes.”
Francine met his gaze for a moment then looked around at the surroundings. “I think you might be right.”
“So what killed it?”
It could tell it was near the clearing due to the trees’ smells fading into nothing more than background scents. The other odor was still there.
There were two human scents, a male and female, both of them nearby.
Despite its previous meal not too long ago, it was ravenous.
It entered the clearing.
“Does Bigfoot have any natural predators?”
“I’m not really sure,” Francine replied. “But, if I had to give an answer, I would say no.”
“So, I’ll ask again. What killed it?”
They both thought back to the strange tracks in the picture on Francine’s phone.
“Do you think those tracks are part of it?” Francine asked.
George opened his mouth to answer but saw Francine’s eyes open wide in fear.
Something slammed into him and tackled him to the ground, landing on his stomach. George struggled to turn over but he felt a sting in his back; within seconds a toxin entered his bloodstream, paralyzing him. Although he could not move, George’s head remained facing Francine’s direction.
The thing that tackled him was already making its way towards her. It was hairless and running just as he had acted out earlier: running on its knuckles with its fingers curled underneath, like a gorilla.
Francine screamed and ran. The creature, however, was too fast and tackled her to the ground. Two stingers shot out of its palms into her back, just beneath her shoulder blades.
When she stopped moving, it turned its head to George.
There were no eyes; only nostrils constantly flaring and a mouth running vertically up its face. A large plate-like feature jutted out along its back, protecting most of the torso.
The creature began dragging her back to where George was lying. It released her and using the claws on its hands, cut into her forearm. George watched as it dug its hook-like teeth into her flesh and then the mouth opened, tearing tissue away from the bone. A penetrating sheath shot out of its mouth into the bone and it began to ingest Francine’s marrow.
George could only watch and wait, knowing that once it finished with her it would come for him.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
“Fulfill your divine potential. Connect with your higher self and spirit guides. Manifest the life you want,” read the brochure.
It sounded like a good idea at the time, but sitting there, in a circle of misfits, Jess regretted going along and wondered how she could politely excuse herself.
A woman with long white hair rang a little bell to announce the meditation was about to begin. People hushed their soft chatter. They nestled on their cushions, getting comfortable.
“Okay. Let’s begin. My name is Isadora. I will be leading the guided meditation with you tonight.”
Isadora glanced around the room, smiling warmly. She wore long flowing clothes in shades of pink and white. Her neck and fingers were adorned with gemstones. Jess hated her immediately.
“Let’s close our eyes. Begin by taking a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And another deep breath in…and out. Allow all the thoughts and worries of the day to slip away. Become fully aware of your body. We’re going to count backwards from ten and you will gradually feel more and more relaxed. Ten…”
Reluctantly Jess closed her eyes. She would just have to sit through this and leave as soon as she could. She peeped through squinted eyes at the others in the room. They were a random group from all walks of life: a well groomed business man fresh out of the office, a twenty something Goth girl, a middle aged woman in gym gear, a plump woman in a brightly printed kaftan and matching head scarf.
Without dropping her smile Isadora gave Jess a stern look. Jess quickly squeezed her eyes shut.
“You are standing in a beautiful forest; a lush, green, beautiful forest. It is a warm sunny day. You are walking through the forest and soon you reach a clearing. Standing in the middle of the clearing is someone waiting for you. It is your spirit guide. Feel the rays of love coming from your guide, they are so happy to meet you.”
Jess was standing in a beautiful forest. A lush, green, beautiful forest. A short way ahead there was a clearing. She walked towards the clearing as she was instructed. There was something there. It was so bright that her eyes began to sting; she couldn’t look at it directly. Jess didn’t feel joy, she felt a heavy sinking dread – an immobilizing terror. The being was menacing. It appeared to be made of flames, flickering and lashing. Jess looked around, frightened. The lush, green, beautiful forest had become dense and dark, stretching upwards, closing in on her. She couldn’t escape this imagined landscape; there was no way back.
“When you feel ready you may approach your guide. You may hug them if you wish, do what feels right for you. Ask them if they have a name.”
Isadora’s calm steady voice continued to drone on in her head, but Jess could no longer focus on the words.
The temperature was rising quickly, the atmosphere had become a blistering haze. Jess was sweating; she felt faint. The strange being approached her. It came close, dancing and twirling in front of her. The waves of heat were scalding; she could smell her hair smouldering. Tiny shooting sparks flicked at her, each one inflicting a painful burn. Jess opened her mouth to scream and the being leapt in. It slid down her throat and zapped around furiously in her belly. Her stomach began to sizzle. The sensation of being burned from the inside out was excruciating. She dropped to the ground screaming. She rolled around clutching her stomach, but the fire was within her and she couldn’t extinguish it. The looming dark forest exploded in flames.
“…And when you are ready, open your eyes. You are now fully back in your body and safely grounded.”
Isadora’s voice cut through her vision and Jess found herself sitting on the cushion again.
Around her, the others had begun to stretch and move. A few people were shedding quiet tears of happiness and awe. The kaftan wearing woman was chanting ‘Om’. Isadora rang her tiny bell again to bring attention back to the circle.
“Okay. I hope you all enjoyed that visualization. Would anyone like to share their experience?”
“My guide was a Native American warrior,” blurted the businessman. “He gave me a large white feather.”
“A white feather!” said Isadora, impressed. “Wonderful. Very powerful.”
A lively discussion began as people exchanged details of their spirit guide experiences, comparing mysterious details and imagery.
Jess sat quietly, feeling very shaken. Her experience had seemed so real, so awful. She remembered the smell of her hair burning and the sensation of burning up inside. She hoped no one would ask her about it. She looked around the room, growing more anxious. It was starting to get so hot and stuffy. Thick smoke streamed from an incense burner, forming a mist in the room. The sweet scent was nauseating. Candles burned around the circle. Jessica watched the flames rise and flash brightly. She wriggled uncomfortably as panic began to set in. She must be imagining things, she thought, she had to get out.
“Are you okay, dear? Do you want to share your experience? Sometimes our guides challenge us because they know we are ready to grow.”
Isadora was speaking to her. She was still smiling that infuriating smile, that feigned wisdom and compassion.
The others in the circle turned to stare at Jess. Jess felt a strange force stir within her and she struggled to speak.
“My guide…my guide is…my guide is fire!”
The smile on Isadora’s face didn’t falter, she stared at Jess, not understanding.
Jess began to shake, a blind rage rose within her, building momentum. A deafening screech erupted from her as she lunged at Isadora, bowling her over. Her hands gripped her neck and squeezed. Jess watched in shock and delight as flesh melted and oozed in her hands. Muscle dripped away from jawbone, revealing rows of long teeth; the tongue was sizzling sludge. Isadora’s eyeballs blistered then popped. Foul grey smoke streamed out of ears and nostrils as her brain boiled. Soon, all that remained of Isadora’s head was a charred skull with a mocking smile.
The room had erupted into screams. Jess stood and faced the others, her eyes glowed like burning coals. Candles flashed, alighting curtains and furnishings as people tried to escape. The sacred circle was now a ring of flame.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Nat Tyler sobbed over the grave of Elena Hainsley as he had every night for the nine months since her passing. Though he was 30 years her elder, his devotion to her was undying. From the moment he’d seen her across the hospital hallway, he dedicated every waking breath to trying to ease her pain and suffering, often stealing from the dispensary in order to give her the treatment her family was too poor to afford.
Nat had been employed as a nursing assistant at the institution for only a short time before Elena was admitted there for a rare form of cancer. Though he had no formal medical training, he was highly intelligent, and often snickered at the med students when they tried to make a diagnosis only to fail miserably. He watched how the treatments were given and was soon diverting medication from one patient to another, delivering his own concoction of meds as he fudged the charts so no one would suspect any wrongdoing.
Once Elena had been admitted, all of his focus and attention was on her. He knew the times her family members would visit, and he knew her complete treatment schedule. Though there was only small-talk between Nat and Elena for now, he was certain they would be together once she got better. And she would get better, he knew she would because he would see to it.
Elena began to make progress and the doctors seemed baffled because nothing they’d tried previously had slowed the cancer that was ravaging her body. Nat wasn’t surprised though, he had adjusted her chemotherapy and knew he was the reason for her ‘miraculous’ progress. With Elena’s new prognosis, he knew they would soon be together, so he began to converse more and more with her and her family.
After a couple weeks of improvement though, things took a turn for the worse. Elena inexplicably slipped into a coma; the doctors had no answers. Nat was at a loss, he stayed up night after night researching, scouring medical journals for a cause and cure to Elena’s sudden change in condition.
On October 25th, at 11:43 p.m., Elena succumbed to her battle and passed while Nat was away from the hospital. He’d gone into work late that evening with what he thought would be the answer only to find her room empty. Her family was with the case worker. Nat stood outside in the hallway and eavesdropped, sobbing silently along with the others. As he heard her family readying to leave, he turned and walked away.
That afternoon, he went into his supervisor’s office and quit. He knew he would be unable to return to the place where Elena had died. Though he remained at a distance, he followed Elena’s parents and brother around town as they made the funeral arrangements.
When the day of the funeral came, Nat could hardly bring himself to get out of bed, but he did. Though Elena hardly knew him, he knew she would want him there; they were soulmates whether she’d realized it or not.
The turnout for the funeral was small, maybe fifteen people huddled under umbrellas around the freshly dug grave. Nat remained several yards away from the family. Though they had met at the hospital, they wouldn’t understand the connection he had to Elena or his presence at the solemn occasion.
Once the service was over and the small gathering had left, Nat remained behind until a cemetery worker told him that he’d need to leave, but could come back in the morning. He acted like he was leaving and drove around the block, soon to return a short time later. He jumped the back wall and returned to Elena’s grave. A full moon rose in the sky as Nat lay on the moist ground, naked and sobbing. Exhausted, he fell asleep only to wake to a strange, yet alluring sound. He glanced at his watch as chills ran down his spine – 11:43 p.m. – the exact time Elena had died. A voice unlike any he’d ever heard was singing the most beautiful song. He’d never heard the song or the voice before, but he knew it was Elena. For the first time since her death, Nat felt at peace. The song eventually subsided and Nat left feeling more peaceful than he had in days. He returned every night after to greet the voice that also returned at precisely 11:43 p.m., for the next nine months.
One particularly warm night the following July, there was no voice. Nat glanced at his watch, 12:17 p.m., yet there was no serenade from Elena. He rested his ear to the earth atop her grave but still nothing; he became agitated.
“Elena! Please, my dear. Sing to me.”
He beat on the ground with his fists until they bled but the sweet sound of her voice never came. Sorrow turned to confusion as unfamiliar words floated through the humid night air.
“Take me home, my dear. Please free me from this grave.”
Nat cried uncontrollably as the voice repeated the words over and over. Nat gathered himself and left in a rush only to return an hour later.
Jumping over the wall this time proved to be slightly more difficult than normal. First, he lifted the wagon and dropped it onto the other side before tossing the shovel and tarps over, then joined his collected items. Once in the cemetery again, Nat placed the shovel and tarps into the wagon and made his way toward Elena’s grave.
Nat gently rested Elena’s body in the wagon and placed a kiss on her lips before he wrapped the rest of the tarp over her decaying form. After he returned the grave site to nearly the exact condition in which he’d found it, Nat carted Elena’s withered remains through the still night air; all the while the wheels of the wagon squished into the moist earth.
With modern medicine failing to save Elena’s life, Nat took it upon himself to ensure that she would remain with him forever. He brought Elena to his home and carried her over the threshold as he’d imagined so many times.
“Mr. and Mrs. Nat Tyler,” he announced as he carried her into the living room of his modest beach cottage.
He brought Elena to his workshop at the rear of the house and rested her on a bed in the center of the room. He then spent every day working to preserve his beautiful Elena. Her body had decayed to a point where her bones no longer held together at the joints, so he created a framework with coat hangers and wire to keep them in place. Her eyes were gone, those he replaced with large marbles that resembled her natural eye color. Her skin had sloughed away, to replenish her precious flesh, he used silk cloth and a patchwork of plaster where necessary. What remained of her liquefied organs he removed and replaced with rags and large bundles of fabric to give her body the shapely form she once had. During her stay in the hospital, he’d secretly collected large samples of her hair, now he used it to construct a wig that he placed atop her skull. He adorned her with jewelry, and changed her clothes daily.
The pungent scent of decay was a constant reminder of long ago death, but Nat camouflaged it with bottles of expensive perfume. He even used formaldehyde to slow the process as much as he could. Each night, Nat lay next to his beautiful Elena, and whispered promises he intended to keep.
The relationship lasted for years until one night, while lying naked in bed next to his bride, he woke unable to breathe. He bolted upright and grabbed for his throat, trying to relieve the pressure but an invisible hand gripped tighter, further constricting his windpipe. Nat flailed and fell to the floor, his eyes wild and confused, he searched the room for any hint as to what was happening but to no avail. Bright white spots burst into his vision as the room began to close in around him and an unfamiliar noxious stench filled the air.
An ominous silhouette appeared and stood over Nat as he struggled to remain conscious. He squinted trying to identify the towering form in front of him, the lack of oxygen made it impossible to think and he surrendered to the darkness, but not before the towering figure spoke in a booming, malevolent tone.
“You stole what was not yours to take. She is tainted now; she will remain yours forever as you so greedily desired.”
Police responded to reports of a foul smell coming from the residence of Nat Tyler. When they arrived, they found Nat, naked and decayed, his body entwined on the floor with the macabre corpse of Elena Hainsley. Though the scene was gruesome, authorities were intrigued and stunned to find Elena’s corpse in such a well-preserved state. Her body was examined by authorities before being returned to an unmarked grave where she was finally allowed to rest in peace.
~ Craig McGray
© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.
Strangely, I felt no pain. Stars exploded before my eyes, and all went black.
I should’ve known better. I’d heard the stories, but dismissed them as fancy. Urban legend. I’d taken the garbage out, then for a walk with the dog. Together we enjoyed the quiet of a birthing night. Muffin sniffed around a pole while I admired the pink sky. I never got many of those moments; the ones of solitude, that was. My home was a frantic hub, three teenage girls and an angry wife. I escaped as often as I could, even if it meant something as simple as watching Muffin piss atop a neighbor’s lawn.
The lab reared her head, nose attacking the air, hackles raised. She backed her ass against me, a deep growl caught in her throat. I scanned the lawns expecting to see another animal, a raccoon, maybe; worst still, a skunk. I saw nothing. Only a white car humming down the street. “Easy girl,” I cooed, her snout swinging in confusion.
That’s all I remembered.
I woke in the black. Shirtless. Legs folded under me. Shoeless, too. Dog leash still in hand. My body jostled about. I threw my hands out, struck metal. A trunk. Fuck, it was all true then.
My back ached. I thought of all the good work performed by my chiropractor now gone to shit. And my head, well that ached like a motherfucker as well; my fingers traced the egg protruding under my hair. I inhaled the stale air of my confinement, felt the sweat dance along my balls.
I waited. I thought. I thought hard. The stories…one had to abide by certain rules. I fumbled with Muffin’s leash, passing it hand to hand. It finally came to me. Rule one. You don’t talk about Shambler Club. Rule two. You most definitely don’t talk about Shambler Club.
How many rules were there?
The jostling stopped. All grew still. My senses screamed. But I kept remembering.
Rule three. If someone gets bit, you’re next in line.
Only two bodies to a fight. One fight at a time.
I should’ve been thinking of my kids, but doing so would only dull any edge I might hope to have. I realized I needed to be ready. I needed to fight.
No shirts, no shoes.
I heard a key click in the lock.
The trunk lid rose.
Fights go as long as they need. If this is your first night at Shambler Club, you have to fight. Because it will be your last if you don’t.
Artificial light blinded me. A crowd’s roar filled my ears.
I pulled myself up. Slowly at first, eyes gradually adjusting to the spotlights set above my head. I willed the soreness from my body. No, not really; it didn’t work. Wincing, I flipped a leg out from the bowel of the trunk. Then another. I saw a cracked sticker upon a faded bumper: HONK IF YOU’RE HAPPY
I saw them, four deep. Maybe five. Man. Woman. Even child. They cheered wildly; money exchanged hands. I wondered how much was wagered in my favor. I wondered how many even cared. Sand filled the gaps between my toes; it sure as hell felt better than the bottom of the trunk.
“Suburbanite dad, are you ready?”
The announcement echoed from the speakers set up around the pit. And it was a pit, filled with a loose sand that claimed the tops of my feet; pitted railroad ties stacked three high, serving as some rudimentary border. Barbed wire, strung from aluminum poles driven every ten feet or so into the ground accompanied them. Warehouse, arena or otherwise, the arrangement was impressive. No one was getting into the pit. More importantly, no one was getting out.
“I said, suburbanite dad, are you ready?”
Unsure, I raised my hand. Outside the pit, the savages went wild. The cheers, the heckling, resonated inside my head making that egg feel watermelon sized. No doubt about it now, that urban legend was all too real. I thought of a dark place, any I might have. Recollections of bedtime lullabies for my daughters weren’t helping me now. I needed to get pissed off: thoughts of my brother-in-law who disrupted every goddamn thing I ever had planned; my wife, who always left the recycling bin full for me to dump on stormy nights; a life filled with frustration…
Bring it on.
At the far end of the pit sat a trailer; its aluminum door began to rise. I couldn’t see it emerge at first, hidden as it was in the gloom. But by inches it revealed itself; stained jeans hanging from an emaciated waist, grey-pasty fingers clacking along its sides. The Shambler saw me. Correct that – smelled me, the way dear Muffin used to inhale the fragrance of the hydrants in town. Locked onto whatever scent I gave off (the shit smell of fear, maybe?), the Shambler lurched from the trailer, gaining uncanny speed across the makeshift sand bed.
The crowd rocked with delirium. I’m sure they sensed an easy kill. My first impulse? I ran away, looking every bit like Costello in those old flicks I used to watch with dad. But this was my ass on the line, and I didn’t give a flying fuck exactly how manly I appeared.
It didn’t think strategy; it didn’t craft a plan. The Shambler knew only hunger, and it saw meat dead ahead. Oddly, I found myself laughing as I ran for my life. If I’d believed the Shambler Club a thing of legend, then surely Shamblers themselves were the rainbows ringing my hairy ass. Pallid faced, milky eyed, it came after me.
I was a dad; hell, the very suburbanite dad I was introduced as. I knew nothing of the rules of the pit, nothing about fighting the undead. My feet churned clumsily through the sand. I stumbled, fell. Gashed my palm on barbed wire as I reached out going down. The crowd was right there, in my face, screaming bloody terror in support of their wagers, separated only by the barb and a healthy fear of the Shambler.
The Shambler, well, it was right in my face, stalking me down with uncanny speed for something that, scientifically, shouldn’t have been able to move; shouldn’t have even existed. It straddled me, so cold, feeling so rubbery. From its mouth wafted the rank scent of flesh worked over by the sun. Its teeth, those gnashing, crooked teeth, worried me most.
It lunged for my neck, but I’d been hiding my face behind my hands and somehow pushed its chin away. There I lay, in the pit, in the sand, my entire existence narrowed down to a hellish moment in some undisclosed location; undisclosed to me, at least. My mind went back to rules one and two: you never, ever talk about Shambler Club.
Because you can’t.
The Shambler’s jaws snapped: open, shut, open, shut, but still I shoved its chin aside. Sideways, it glared at me, those dead pupils seeing something of this realm I simply could not. The crowd chanted. My mind began to drift. I thought of Brianna, my oldest. Interested boys were already lining up outside my door; she kept her iPhone concealed from me all the time.
My strength ebbed; the jaws drew closer.
Madison, my middle girl. She aspired to be a baker. Her cupcakes had packed unwanted pounds around my midsection.
Snap, snap, those yellowed teeth.
Then there was Bailey. My little Bailey. She’d always be my baby. All my girls would be, of course, but her especially. She still wanted my goodnight kiss upon her forehead at night, still hugged me like I was Santa Claus every day before leaving the house for work.
In long strands, the saliva spilled from the Shambler’s lips, mere inches from taking my life.
I thought of the endless grief my wife gave me when buying a book from Amazon while her purses formed an endless caravan outside our closet. I thought of the many times she extinguished the bedroom light without ever giving me a second glance, let alone saying goodnight.
The Shambler’s chin halted. Began moving away.
I thought of her many criticisms, the way she mocked me for my lack of grace under pressure.
Slowly, its head tilted upward.
Yes, I needed to bring myself to a dark place.
My hand, it continued to bleed from the wound; rivulets crisscrossed my forearm, my elbow. But I wouldn’t stop pushing back against the Shambler, would not stop –
I still held tight to Muffin’s leash.
With my free hand, I reached out, tossing the leash round the Shambler’s neck. It swung up, over and around. I shifted my bodyweight beneath the Shambler; the sand served as my ally. I clutched the dangling leash and, hands now crossed under its chin, flipped atop the undead thing. Summoning all the strength I could muster from my middle-aged core, I reared back on the leash.
I pulled and didn’t stop. It might’ve been due in part to the rage I felt over mowing the lawn time after time without appreciation; maybe it was the simple desire to keep giving my Bailey those goodnight kisses. Either way, I pulled on that fucking leash, screamed above the crowd as the nylon tore further through the wound on my palm. The Shambler shuddered as its head gradually separated from its shoulders.
I pulled. The crowd cheered me on (some still heckled as well). I thought of Muffin, not knowing where she was, and thanked her for the blessing that was her leash. Rage spewed from my mouth; with a hefty tug, the nylon cord cleaved dead flesh and its brittle spinal cord. Its head plopped atop the sand.
My hand throbbed like hell, but it was better than the alternative. I fist pumped the air, playing to my supporters’ adulation. As I turned to leave the pit, I realized there was nowhere for me to go.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the suburbanite dad scores the upset victory!”
The ring announcer’s voice was nowhere, yet everywhere. I spun round and round in the sand, recalling the days I spent playing on the beach as a boy. But this was no beach.
“Can he do it again?”
And I am no longer a boy.
“I said, can he do it again?”
The car that delivered me into the pit didn’t offer further protection. And it’s not like I expected to find the keys inside. Even if they were, I’m wasn’t about to lock myself in and hide. What would’ve been the point? Of the many stories I’d heard, Shambler Club still remained a champion short worth remembering.
As the trailer door clanked open again, the crowd grew hush. I stood. I waited. I saw toenails, perfectly manicured, brushed with a blue stolen from summer’s sky. Skin so tan, so fresh – so unlike the thing rotting down at my feet. Shapely legs sprouting from designer shorts…my eyes continued their upward journey. I knew every inch of that dead flesh, of course. What I didn’t know was how they’d managed to turn my wife so fast.
I thought of all her sideways glances, tightened my grip on Muffin’s leash and charged.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2015 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
Diana’s terrified lament sent sharp pricks down my spine, my stomach clenching as if I’d been punched. Leaping from the soft embrace of my easy chair, I ran for the door, spilling the can of beer I’d been holding all over the rug. A sudsy trail marked my progress to the front of the house.
My neighbor was on her porch, screaming incoherently, literally tearing tufts of her curly black hair out at the roots. Her cries had gotten everyone streaming from their houses. I was the closest, and the first to grab her by the shoulders. Her eyes were glassy, overflowing with tears. There was madness in them. Irretrievable madness.
“Diana, what’s wrong?”
Something inside me had an idea as to what had fractured this normally quiet, insular soul. I prayed I was wrong.
Her eyes met mine but there was no recognition. Elsa from across the street sprinted up the stairs. “Can you stay with her?” I said. Elsa nodded, folding Diana into her arms.
Bolting to the back of the house where the bedrooms were, I heard a child crying. Steeling myself as best I could, I stepped into Diana’s children’s room. The door was plastered with pages carefully removed from coloring books. On alternating pages were the names Ben and Cody, the way painters would add their signature to a canvas.
Cody sat up in bed, chest heaving with sobs. He looked across the room to his brother, Ben’s head hanging over the edge of his own bed. There was blood everywhere. It had soaked the mattress, dripping onto the floor with soft, steady plinks.
Everyone who knew the little hemophiliac boys worried about this happening one day. Cody and Ben, frail, tow-headed children who spent most of their days in the safe cocoon of their room, lived with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. I checked Ben’s pulse. His skin was already cold, the blood on my hand room temperature at best.
Covering Ben with the crimson sheet, I swallowed hard, finding it difficult to stand.
“I’m so sorry, Cody,” was all I could muster. I wanted to console the boy, hold him, but my hands were streaked with his twin’s blood.
“The Gray Man cut him,” the boy sputtered between sobs.
“What did you say?”
“He came in our room. I saw him!”
Now my heart thudded wildly. Was there an intruder in the house? Someone debased enough to murder a sick child?
I heard footsteps thundering in the house. More neighbors coming to see what had happened. “In here!” I shouted.
The footsteps stopped when someone else screamed outside. It wasn’t Diana. It was a man.
Phil from down the block halted in the doorway. His face went pale. “Oh my God.”
“What’s happening outside?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think that was Martin shouting.”
Cody had gone silent, lying on his side, eyes unblinking, staring at the shrouded hump of his brother.
If it was Martin out there, he sounded even worse than Diana. “Watch Cody for me?”
Phil nodded, but I wasn’t sure he heard me. I had to squeeze past him to get out of the room.
Elsa was still with Diana, now surrounded by several women, a couple I didn’t recognize.
It had been Martin. The burly man was in the middle of the street on his knees, weeping. His eight year-old daughter, Katie, was in his arms. I would have thought she was asleep if not for the impossible angle of her head. Her neck had clearly been broken.
“Why?” he cried. “Why would someone take my Katie?”
Fiona and Arnold, my neighbors to the other side of me, let out twin peels of anguish. While people gathered around Martin, I sped toward their house. What the hell was going on?
I found them in the living room, their five-year-old son Tyler on the couch. It looked like every one of his limbs had been snapped in half.
“Call the fucking police!” Fiona wailed. I patted my pockets. My phone was back at the house.
“Did you see the Gray Man?” a small voice said beside me.
I looked down, shocked to see Cody. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him outside the perimeter of his house before. His eyes were blood red.
Arnold’s hands were balled into fists. He looked like he wanted to tear someone apart, if he didn’t fall apart first. “You saw someone come into my house?” he said to the eerily calm little boy.
Cody shook his head. “I saw him in my room. Ben and I dreamed about him and he came.”
I stepped close to Arnold, whispering so Cody couldn’t hear. “He just watched his brother bleed out. He’s in shock.”
“The Gray Man said he needed helpers,” Cody continued. Poor Fiona looked about to faint. “And one day he’d come for us. He liked Ben better than me.”
I wanted to tell the boy to shut up. It wasn’t his fault. More voices cried out. They seemed to be coming from everywhere.
I got down on a knee, locking my eyes with Cody’s. “Can you tell us what the Gray Man looks like?”
There had to be a man, or men, responsible for this. The question, beyond the why, was how did they get into all of our houses in the middle of the day?
“It doesn’t matter,” Cody said. “He’s gone now. I don’t like the Gray Man. He said he’d take me with him. He’s a liar.”
Picking Cody up, I walked out of the house. Now, amidst the heart-rending cries of parents throughout the neighborhood, came the blaring of sirens. It felt and sounded like the end of the world. Men and women carried their broken children in a daze. The sidewalks were slick with tears.
Cody struggled in my arms. “I can help, too!” he blurted as he slipped free. Running to a tree, he scraped his arm against the bark, opening an angry, suppurating wound.
I clamped my hands over the ragged gash, but the blood, thin as water, seeped through my fingers.
“I can help, too,” Cody whispered, then closed his eyes.
Police cars and ambulances swarmed the street. It would be impossible to direct them who to help first.
Cody shuddered, took one deep breath, and passed.
Maybe the Gray Man had come. I didn’t know whether to wish Cody could catch up to him and be with his brother, or flee as far as his spirit could from the monster who stole our innocents.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved
Aislinn crawls under her covers, which feel cold against her skin, like her mother’s lips on wintry mornings when she kisses her goodbye for school. Goosebumps prickle her arms but she is not uncomfortable; she is in bed, the place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, and there is no discomfort in these things. Besides, the bed will grow warm quickly. It does so every night. At least, it has done every night beforehand.
Small fingers in the darkness find her bedcovers. Dragging the cotton sheets up her body to beneath her chin, she glances one last time across her room. This is her bedroom. Her private place, where she can host tea parties, entertain her dolls and read eagerly from glossy teen magazines, secreted beneath her mattress, without fear of being judged or, worse, disarmed.
The curtains flutter. Her rocking-horse creaks. From across the room, her Gameboy console flickers briefly into life. For one moment its blue light illuminates her shelf of smiling dolls – she sees Molly, Blossom, Lady Honeypaw, clutching tight the jar of her namesake – then it cuts out again. The room falls still.
She is half-asleep now. Her eyes are closing and she is drifting off. Her legs slip either side of her bedcovers, relishing the feel of them, the coolness against her skin, and in this half-sleep state she wishes for a bedtime story. Her thumb finds her mouth, as it always does when she is in bed and it is dark. Her thumb precludes dreams and sleep and a snug familiarity.
She wishes for a bedtime story. She wishes so very hard.
Her mother hasn’t read to her this evening. She can hear her some nights, through the floor, laughing with her father; the sounds of glasses clinking, of shrieks and the murmur of the television. Her mother reads less and less of late. Aislinn isn’t sure why. She sucks harder on her thumb, coats the digit in a glistening layer of saliva, and wishes her mother would read to her again, like she used to, like before.
The flutter of the curtains. The creak of the rocking horse. And another sound, like a crying dog, from somewhere nearby. She leans forward, peers over her crumpled covers, searching for its source. Her eyes scan her bedroom: the wardrobe, the night stand, the shelf where her dolls sit, glassy eyed, their lips stitched into beatific smiles. She knows those smiles. They are ‘supposed-to’ smiles. She wears them often enough.
And then she sees them. Three figures, no taller than Aislinn herself, standing quite still next to her mirror, beside the chest of drawers. She isn’t sure how long they have been standing there, hidden in plain sight by the dark. She doesn’t suppose it matters. Clutching her covers, her heart begins to race inside her chest.
Stepping through the darkness, they approach her silently. Perhaps they have come from the mirror, she thinks, or birthed from the shadows, or the fluffy insides of the dolls. The shadows cling to them like veils. Shrouded in blackness, they seem inscrutable, except for their whimpers, like Toby when he would trap his tail in the kitchen door. They smell like Toby too; wet fur, hot breath, rotten scents ill-fitting with their spirited movements.
They all three sweep towards her, limping across the bedroom floor, and she shrinks hurriedly into her covers, warmer now, infused with that sleepy smell. She takes a deep breath and, for one moment, the figures are forgotten for that smell.
Then they are around her bed.
They lean over the sheets, their chipped nails dragging delicately across the covers. Swathes of lace – or it might be lank hair – hang from their pencil-thin arms, and it is only when the first leans down, into Aislinn’s face, that she notices they wear veils, like those princesses from the animated films she loves to watch on Saturday mornings. Except they are like no princesses she has ever seen, and certainly no prince would ever march to save them, or slay a writhing serpent in their honour. She is a tight ball of trembling limbs beneath the covers.
Something thick and bulbous presses against the veil of the first; a tongue, long and swollen like a pale leech, and she wonders if these three are not the serpents themselves, in wicked disguise, come to claim her with their scaly claws. Her mouth opens, to shout, to cry, except no sound escapes her lips –
The curtains flutter, the rocking horse creaks and the three crones shudder to a stop. For a moment they seem to stare at each other through the murkiness of their veils. Then they spin slowly on their heels.
Something is happening to the rocking horse. It sways forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, steadily at first but with increasing pace, just like it does when she mounts it. The dolls are twitching too, their legs swinging, button eyes blinking. Then, with deliberate slowness, the horse’s broad, white neck curves round. It whinnies, snorts a steamy breath, and its pearly black eyes fix themselves onto the Harridans.
They all three whine in unison. A long, twisting horn winds its way from out of the rocking-horse’s forehead, and then it is no longer a rocking-horse but a proud stallion, thickly-muscled and fierce. His solitary horn shines silvery and hard in the moonlight and even from across the room she can count the age-rings, smooth and marbled, on its surface.
He paws her bedroom carpet, strikes the fabric with his hooves, and snorts steamily again until he has the crones’ attention. He is her defender, she realises, wiping away the tears from her eyes. Even though she has not ridden him for a long time now, he remembers her hands on his neck. He remembers her weight on his back, her legs pressed tight to his sides, and he will fight for her.
The crones stagger with horrid purpose towards him. Shadows bleed from beneath their arms and the long strips of lace that hang there, and with every step closer to the horse their lamenting wails intensify.
Aislinn shrinks further beneath her covers as, with a dreadful lurch, the first crone reaches the stallion. He whinnies and rears up as she draws near, shining hooves pedalling beside the toy-box. The crone cowers on the floor before him and for a moment it looks as though the stallion might triumph, his eyes two glistening marbles in the dark.
Then the other two reach his sides. Their lamenting cries made all the more horrible for what they are about to do, they claw him, their fingers shearing long, thin rashers from his flanks. Cackling and weeping they bury their fingers deeper into his pale coat, drawing blackness from within, only this blackness is wet and drips from their hands to stain the carpet below. He throws back his head, his eyes rolling. Giddy sounds erupt from his throat.
One by one her dolls drop from the shelf. The room fills with soft sounds as they hit the carpet, then the patter of their boots as they rush across the floor. Reaching up they tug at the crones, grasping the strands of lace and hair, pulling them back from the horse with Lilliputian might. She sees Molly and Blossom, their stitched lips pursed tight, and feels hope again.
With a voiceless heave, they bring one crone to the ground. She screams as she topples into the sea of smiling faces, her grey dress floating around her. They grab the dress and pin her down, Lady Honeypaw climbing triumphant onto her chest. She upends her pot of honey over the veiled face.
The last crone scatters her assailants. She snatches them up, tears them in two and tosses them away. Stuffing spills from their broken bodies, buttons plink across the room, then she returns her hands to the steed.
He stumbles. Aislinn feels him fall and she trembles. Screams judder from his throat and he sinks down to his knees, the toy-box shattering beneath his bulk. Its contents scatter across the carpet. Sheared flesh covers the broken dolls, blood splashes their button eyes and then the stallion’s mane darkens, until it might have been one of the scouring pads her mother uses to scratch out dirt from the sink. The stallion lies still amid her toys.
The crones regroup and turn, together, to her bed. She trembles harder beneath her sheets. Her eyes brim with tears again, although she is otherwise motionless, frozen by a mixture of fear and something else, something strange, a feeling of familiarity. Downstairs, all is silent. Her mother and father must have gone to bed. She has no brothers or sisters. Toby is long gone now, ‘to be with the angels in the sky,’ though she knows he really occupies a shallow hole in the back garden, behind the roses. She remembers dank soil, his short fur and cold flesh.
As she drags her covers over her, so that only her eyes are visible, she realises she knows these crones. They are her long-dead dog, her slain steed, every bedtime without stories; fears made half-physical in the dark and the night. She sees something of herself in the crones’ withered forms; and her mother and her grandmother, and realises they are not just crones but brides, manifestations of age and motherhood, come to claim her at last, as they must claim all growing girls –
The three rise up once more around her bed. They lean in close, and even through her covers, their salty breaths catching in her throat. It seems like everything warm, everything nice, everything she knows is good and right, is swallowed up by the black void of their veils. Their fingers rise to their veils, clasping them even as their other hands brush Aislinn’s covers. For a moment their hands hover there. Then, with one quick motion, they tear the delicate net cloth from their faces.
A scream fills Aislinn’s mouth. It fills her bedroom too, piercing even the blackest shadows as she looks upon the faces of the brides. Then the brides are gone and she is sitting up in the darkness, her mother rushing to her side, concern and sleep in equal measures in her eyes.
Slowly Aislinn calms down. Her mother switches on lights and reads to her. After a while, her breathing steadies. Her eyes regain a languid glaze. Guided by her mother’s words, she sinks back into her bed; that place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, except not so familiar any more.
Unable to place what has changed, in a room that has not, she drifts uncertainly back to sleep and dreams of riding down the aisle atop a snorting stallion, delicate lace trailing after her, a thin net veil before her face.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved
Every day, like a moth to a flame, I revisit this spot, eager to see it again. Leaning back against the tree, I gaze out onto the horizon. My eyes scan left to right, right to left. It was here, on this small protrusion of land, I saw it hovering silently, deliberately above the Atlantic water. Mechanical, organic, frightening and alluring all rolled into one. For hours I watched with morbid fascination until it finally disappeared into the sky. Since then, my dreams, every waking moment, have been obsessing over it. So here I sit, waiting, hoping, for its return.
Burn To Your Core
Joseph A. Pinto
And still I survive here; and I am charred; and I am lifeless without ever having died. You surround me with portrait skies my limbs can never touch; only the water to nourish me, delivered by beak of bird and sob of storm. Yes, you planted me in barren ground, but I chose to take root. Strove to blossom. More than ever, I realize I cannot. How deathly I must appear against the backdrop you manufactured, an obstruction to all you’d thought perfected. An eyesore so startling I am beauty in my own right; it must burn to your core.
Rest In Peace
Last night I ate with my family for the last time. My brothers and sisters drank, danced, laughing as they have laughed for centuries while gorging themselves to sate the endless void. Let them. I can’t remember ever feeling so full, so monstrously sick of it all. Dawn approaches. Over and over the sea heaves itself against the grey shingles. I was born here; it seems right that I should end here too. Standing on the shore, I watch the waves and the ash floating over them. Birds scream. The sea sighs. I am here, now, and it is beautiful.
It’s been years since anything has blossomed. Sure, an overly ambitious weed may sprout from time to time, or a sporadic leaf may unfold from the tip of a naked branch, but the inky blackness from the soil strangles any attempt to splash color onto its infected landscape. Mankind and nature alike have been smothered by the rot that has stolen the color from the ground and seas. The sky remains the only hint of color in our decimated world and even that will soon be gone. Each day grows shorter, every night becomes longer. We did this to ourselves.
Duel at Dawn
A gentle breeze carries the stench of rot to this seemingly idyllic park. Voices, agitated, from both sides, toss curses at each other, bellowing out that the other will get what is coming to him. They back up to each other, take the ten obligatory paces, turn, and aim.
Lightning strikes the little piece of land jutting out into the river as it has for hundreds of years, ripping through the soil. Both men drop to the ground without a shot being fired.
There will be a duel at dawn once more. Until there is a victor, neither can rest . . .
Finally, a precious moment alone. Staring into the vast emptiness of sky her troubled thoughts churn. The afternoon sun glares in the distance. She frowns as she watches it, an uneasy feeling creeping over her. It is not the sun. It is moving, hurtling towards her quickly. It comes to a sudden halt above her, a huge and gleaming object. She clutches her ears as a deep grating hum fills her head. She thinks to run, to scream, but she can’t move. Her body begins to rise, sucked by a stream of blinding light into the belly of the craft.
She was hanging from the lone tree by the sea, the very place we first made love, our sweat crystallizing with salt, the ammonia scent of our urgency sticky between us. Her limp body presented a dark silhouette against the setting sun. I saw her clothes in a wrinkled pile beneath her feet, toes pointed to where we once lay, a jumble of limbs and satisfied orifices. The surf crashed, imperceptible flecks of foam plinking into the pores of my face.
Her body jerked.
One cut. She gasped.
Into the sea, my love. I promised you a beautiful death.
That was the day our greatest fear came true. A slow build war neither cold nor vigorous. The talking heads had spewed their hype for months, only exacerbating the arrogant, heavy-handed mistakes of the politicians. Cultures clashed causing egos to surge up and trample all over rationale. It wasn’t surprising that international spite and jealously is what pushed the button in the end. When the alert hit the airwaves and our government admitted their diplomatic errors, it was far too late–death was on the way. No sense in running. I just sat down and watched the mushroom cloud form.
By Nina D’Arcangela
Raised are the seas that stood calm before me; quelled are those that traveled by wing to mock me; desiccated is all that once grew to surround me – I stand alone. Arms raised toward the heavens, I pulled upon God’s wrath to sear man’s attempt to staunch my avarice, my deserved ferocity. Tarred may be my flesh, but my spirit stands rooted in this land; untouchable. I thrive not for my glory, but for the one I have served eternally. Each leaf bloomed; yet another tear of poison shed. Each leaf fallen; yet another drop of the demon’s blood spread.
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