Nine Lives

The edges of the jungle dance to the tune played by the vibrant colors of the burning village, twisting, cavorting shadows interspersed with the unknown entities hiding beyond where no light will go.

I know what lurks within the boundaries of the dense undergrowth. Most of what resides there is not good. Death lives and thrives at its core and spreads out to capture ever more territory when the veil of darkness works in its favor.

For now, at least, the fire is saving those of us still alive from being entombed within the snare of annihilation. I wonder if that’s a good thing, though. Sure, we’re saved for now, but at what cost? Capture later on? Torture?

Some fucking life! Yet, some of us can’t condone rolling over and accepting a fate of doom. Better to resist and fight ’til the end than to subjugate yourself to the wishes of the tormentors.

Fuck! I don’t make the rules. This is war. One side wins; one side loses. It’s as simple as that.

Most of the villagers waste no time in leaving their former homes. No sense in staying now. All that remains is burned rubble and ash. We help those who will accept it to get on their way. Their stares tell me what I already know without a word having been spoken: the burning of their village, the forced evacuation from their meager existence, it’s our fault. Yeah, in their minds, the ‘Cong were after us and they are paying the penalty for this retaliatory strike.

How the hell are we supposed to fight and win a war where no one respects us or what we are trying to do for them? They would rather roll over and capitulate to the commie bastards than fight on their own behalves. Not all of them; but a great many feel that way.

It appears that twenty or so of us grunts are left. No sense in leaving now. As long as the fires are raging, we’re safer where we’re at. We better dig in, though. Once the air around us loses the brilliance of the fires and the all-encompassing darkness takes over, we’re sitting ducks.

“C’mon guys!” I holler out. “You know what we have to do. Let’s do it.”

“But, Sarge . . .”

“No buts, soldier! Just do. That’s an order!”

The Captain and Lieutenant both were killed in the battle. Lucky me. I’m in charge now. These guys are my responsibility until I get them back to the base.

My eyes scan the horizon looking for signs of the enemy when it comes into view, rushing around in some sort of haphazard circle, completely on fire, howling in pain, the stench of its burning fur filling the air. I run out from my point of shelter behind a mixture of unburned wood planks and a few sand bags with a blanket and a couple of canteens in my hands. Reaching the distraught animal, I can now see it’s a cat: a rather large, strangely shaped animal perhaps, but a black cat none-the-less. I douse it with the contents of the canteens, and as gently as I can, smother the rest of the fire out while cradling it in my arms. There is no resistance from the animal, almost as if it is entrusting me with its care.

“Geez, Sarge, what are we going to do with that critter? It’s just going to die anyway.”

Staring into its eyes, I see a sign of intelligence I wouldn’t expect from a mere cat, but I see more as well. I see an animal on the mend, rapidly morphing back into what it was before the fire tried to consume it. I’m puzzled. How can this be? It should be merely existing at best, not thriving as it appears to be doing.

“Doesn’t look like it’s dying to me, Corporal,” I say.

He takes another look, stares back at me, and shakes his head. “You know, Sarge, this ain’t normal. It ain’t right.”

Sweat pours from my brow, a mixture of confusion, anxious bewilderment, and just plain heat. “Maybe so, but it’s not bad anyway.”

The big tom cat purrs in my arms, getting stronger by the moment – and seemingly larger. Even after this short amount of time, I feel as if I can barely hold it any longer.

Shit… shit, things start spinning around me, standing no longer an option. The big cat jumps out of my arms as I slide down onto the ground, using a tree to slow my descent.

“Oh, my God! You’ve been hit, Sarge! There’s blood all over the back of your shirt,” one of the men says.

That explains the sudden weakness; I’m coming down from my endorphin rush. The battle is over for the moment. My body is returning to normal. But in this case, normal isn’t good. The bleeding; I have to stop it now before I bleed out or go in to shock.

The sight of my blood creates panic in my men. They don’t know what to do. They’re inexperienced as it is, let alone with this sort of thing.

“You have to cut my shirt off and press down around the wound. Once I’m stabilized, you’ll have to remove the bullet; maybe more than one – I don’t know.”

“But… but how will we know when it’s okay?”

“I’ll tell you, that’s how. If I pass out, you’re on your own.”

Trembling more than I am, even with shock already starting to move in on me, the Corporal slices my shirt open with his knife and calls a couple of the others over to help him. They gently remove the worst of the blood with what’s left of my shirt and apply pressure to the multiple wounds.

I feel myself slipping away, the pain not even able to keep me awake any longer, but if I drift off and don’t fight it, I’m done for.

A hiss cuts through the air and all the hands are gone from my back. Instead, I feel the moistness of a rough tongue licking away at the torn skin, saliva digging in to the cuts, stinging horribly at first before a sort of calming comes over me, and I fall off to sleep.

The fire is no longer burning when I come to. Everything around me is calm: too calm. I feel the presence of something, something close, but there is no noise, no movement, no odors, and nothing to be seen.

Yet, it’s out there. Something. More than one; yes, they are patient, waiting for the perfect time to attack. But when, I don’t know.

My men have laid me in a secure, partially dug out area. If something comes up, I’m in as protected a place as there is. But, my strength is returning fast. As with everything else that’s happened since the arrival of my burning black friend, this makes no sense. I’m recovering as fast as the cat did. It’s almost as if he gave me some sort of life transference. The nine lives are growing.

They’re growing fast.

My furry friend is next to me, purring contentedly, my arms around him. I notice that no sentries have been posted; not the wisest of moves, but I’m not concerned. Somehow, I know I’ll be ready when the time for action comes.

I drift off to sleep again, but it’s not a deep sleep; it’s refreshing rest, but I’m still alert, aware of everything around me, my senses super sharp.

My friend wakes and stares at me, his yellow eyes telling me we can no longer stay where we are. The time has come.

“Corporal!” I say, shaking him, waking him from his sleep. “The ‘Cong are coming. Let’s get ready for them. I’ll go out and flush them in to you from behind.”

He wipes the sleep from his eyes and gives me an incredulous stare. “Don’t worry,” I say. “I know what I’m doing.”

I grab my M-16 and swing to the left, somehow knowing where I’m going, what I’m doing. My vision is sharp, even though the night is dark as coal. I mow the enemy down and push the others towards my compadres.

My ammo runs out! However, the enemy is still here. There are many of them and only one of me. But wait. The cat, my ebony pal is here, and he has grown in size. He is about the size of a small tiger, showing his long teeth to the ‘Cong, spittle dripping down from the edges of his mouth, and his eyes… his yellow eyes are seemingly the size of saucers, and they exude not only ferocity, but cunning as well.

All eyes are off me for now and on the cat. Surely there is plenty of firepower for all of them to dispatch this unexpected nemesis easily enough. But wherever they shoot, the agile animal is one step ahead of them, appearing to know exactly where the bullets will land. Closer and closer he gets to them, his claws no longer retracted, ready for action.

Deep inside me, gut feelings talk to my soul, tell me what to do, alert me of what I can do. My friend needs help; he gave me this power I now possess; the least I can do is help him out.

So fast I don’t believe it myself, my body grows thick, black fur everywhere. The pain in my mouth is excruciating as huge canines form, dropping down into sight before my mouth has completely adjusted to the new me, tearing through my human jaw, blood pouring everywhere. My screams travel on the moist, still air, and cause terror in the eyes of the ‘Cong; they can’t believe the change coming over me.

What’s left of my clothing tears apart from my huge change in size, and I bat the useless garments away with my fully-formed front legs; my razor-sharp claws finish the destruction of the fabric.

My friend advances from one side, and I do the same from the other. I still retain my human brain and reasoning, but my senses are super enhanced inside my cat persona. From the instant of my reformation, I was able to dodge the bullets and perform other miracles of agility totally hidden from me until now.

My friend’s saliva! It saved my life once before, and it is doing so again. I sense we are the same now. We are brothers.

We slash and tear without abandon, bringing our antagonists to their knees, and then their deaths. Once we are sure there are no more of them left to usher into the next world, he changes his size down to a large tabby, and my body morphs back to human form. Yet, my soul, my brain, my senses, belong to both parts of me.

I bask in the glory of what I have become and the powers I possess. But with these powers come responsibility. I must use my strengths wisely.

We return to my men, still waiting for the enemy to be flushed out to them. They can’t help but notice the blood on my jaw, and the fact that I’m stark naked is causing them to wonder what happened.

“Don’t ask,” I say, waving my hand to the side. “The battle was short but brutal. The enemy are all dead.”

The corporal looks at me and shakes his head. “Looks like you and that cat friend of yours are a lot alike. You both have nine lives.”

I laugh. “We have less than that right now.”

The Corporal is right in one respect: he has no idea how much alike we really are.

My yellow eyes capture everything around me. They always will…

~ Blaze McRob

© Copyright 2015 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Lurkers

Martin Maddox wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and resumed hacking away at a particularly thick tree branch with his hatchet. He was halfway up his ladder preparing the large black spruce tree in front of his one level home on Lake McCready for the coming storm. There had been a few branches touching the side and roof of his house in need of trimming so they wouldn’t cause any damage during the high winds and rain of the impending hurricane. With a final swing, the hatchet powered through and the branch toppled to the ground.

“Just a few more,” he said. He climbed up two more rungs and began hacking away at another branch.

Hurricane Hazel had stormed its way up the eastern seaboard and was barreling toward Nova Scotia. It was expected to make landfall later that evening as a Category Two hurricane near the town of Westwood, only ten kilometers south of Lake McCready. Unless it made a sudden and drastic turn, Martin knew that he would be hit straight on.

When he finished chopping the last branch, he climbed down and started to pull the ladder away when something caught his eye. The tree’s roots were breaking through the soil. He applied a little pressure to the ladder and the root rose a bit, splitting more ground. Trimming the branches wouldn’t do any good if the root system was weak. The strong winds and rain would no doubt pull them free, causing the tree to fall wherever the elements desired.

He looked at his watch and it seemed time was against him, too. It was nearly five-thirty and he still had to board up the windows. He would have to roll the dice and hope that the roots held. Shaking his head, he placed the ladder aside, grabbed the branches from the ground and tossed them beside his small shed near the edge of the lake.

Martin took out large planks of wood he had purchased earlier in the year and carried them up the slight slope of the backyard to the house. Setting them down, he turned to retrieve his hammer and nails when he found himself staring at the edge of the lake. The calm before the storm triggered a memory he had buried since he was six years old. The threat of the hurricane had him dreaming snippets of it recently, but now it came back in full, leaving him just as terrified as he had been so many years ago.

***

He was in the same house, although it was a cottage back then. From the living room window, he watched the lake’s surface turn violent in the strong winds of Hurricane Gladys, the only other hurricane he had ever experienced. Over the wind and rain he heard barking and saw the neighbor’s German Sheppard, Hank, at the edge of the lake. Martin wondered why the dog had been left outside during the storm, but before he could think of a possible answer, six little creatures emerged from the water.

Initially, Martin thought they were fish until noticing their large hind legs and smaller front arms, all clawed, with mouths salivating at the prospective meal before them. Hank tried to jump away but they were on him quick. High pitched barks and squeals of pain pierced through the thunder and heavy rain – sounds Martin would always remember and never stop trying to forget. Hardly blinking, he watched as the dog was torn apart in mere seconds.

Stumbling from the window in absolute shock, he looked outside but the creatures were gone. The rain already washed away the blood that remained on the ground, leaving nothing to corroborate his story except a silly rhyme the other kids had taught him.

“The creatures lurk beneath the lake,
Leaving carnage in their wake.
Swimming hard and baring teeth,
Ravenous for a piece of meat.
Onto land they stalk their prey,
With deadly precision they strike and slay.
The feeding frenzy is a terrible sight,
No one can escape with all of their might.
It is a nightmare from which one cannot wake,
From those creatures that lurk beneath the lake.”

Not wanting to be accused of making up stories, he chose never to tell a soul.

***

Martin shook his head, pushing the memory back. He was losing precious time and moved quickly to retrieve the hammer and nails from the shed. The job went relatively quick compared to the trimming of the tree.

He looked up and saw that the sky was already overcast. Stealing a quick glance out to the lake, the water turned choppy as the wind picked up. Martin returned his hammer and nails to the shed and secured the door with a large lock. He made his way towards the house and realized that he had left the hatchet out front. Cursing, he went around and picked it up. He didn’t have the key to the lock on him, so he took the hatchet into the house.

Martin entered through the front screen door that slammed shut on its spring, then closed and locked the solid oak inner door in the kitchen. The house had been built with an open concept, with no real division between the kitchen and living room. Beige and green tiles covered the floor of both rooms. Two couches were set up to face the unplugged television sitting on the floor. On the walls hung a couple of paintings. One depicted fishing boats tied to a dock; the other, a lonely lighthouse standing guard over an unknown coast.

A table was set up between the couches and Martin placed the hatchet atop it. It also held essentials for the storm: three four liter jugs of water, some cold cut sandwiches he had made up earlier in the day, a first aid kit, a Coleman lantern and a single speaker battery-powered radio.

He could hear the wind gusting outside. The house seemed to shiver as he sat down at the table and turned the radio on. He adjusted the tuner with his thumb until he found the local station WOSK.

“… Hurricane Hazel has made landfall three kilometers outside of Westwood. No reports of extensive damage have been made but emergency crews are standing by and preparing for the worst. The Westwood Police Department, as well as the RCMP, have asked that people remain in their homes and stay off of the roads as well as…”

A loud burst of static cut through just as the power flickered and went out. Martin attempted to find another station but only found more static and white noise.

As night began to fall outside, he could see lightning flash between the boards on the windows, followed by booming claps of thunder. The rain pounded against the siding and roof like golf balls. Martin turned the Coleman lantern on and bit into his sandwich.

He gasped when he heard a high-pitched shriek within the wind. He waited, but didn’t hear it again. He returned to his meal.

After another crash of thunder, Martin started hearing scratching noises. They were quiet at first, and he initially thought they were tree branches scraping against the house. The scratching, however, echoed from different parts of the house and sounded deliberate.

“What the hell is…” he began but stopped when a wet thump sounded at the door.

He stood and took a step when another thump came from one of the windows.

And another.

Then another.

They almost seemed to drown out the symphony of the storm. Martin couldn’t help but think that the carnivorous little bodies were slamming into the house, trying to find a way in.

A shriek from outside the door pumped his heart faster – even more so when it was answered from the back of the house.

There were more shrieks and more thumping knocks. He could almost see their little teeth trying to chew through the wood when a strong gust of wind shook the house violently; he heard a tired moan coming from outside. The knocks and shrieks stopped suddenly.

Oh shit! The tree!

A heavy thud hit the roof, shaking the house and causing Martin to squat lower to the ground. The ceiling gave way; the black spruce crashed through amidst a blizzard of debris.

Martin dove but a branch struck him in the head, knocking him to the floor, severely dazed. The tree landed just a few feet away, crashing through the table and scattering all of the emergency supplies. Rain flooded his house as he stared up through the large hole in his roof. A flash of lightning illuminated not only thick storm clouds but also seven little bodies clambering over the jagged edges and into his house.

Stunned yet nonetheless coherent, Martin rolled between one of his couches and the wall.

No more the size of a small dog, the creatures’ bodies were covered with grey and green scales. They resembled raptors with larger, powerful hind legs; four clawed toes and six clawed fingers on smaller arms. Each had a tail akin to a tadpole and longer than their bodies. Their faces were flat, large mouths full of teeth. They had large black eyes yet all sniffed out his sandwiches, rummaging through what remained.

Martin saw the hatchet laying just a few feet away and stretched out to grasp it. Something warm ran down the side of his face; blood dripped onto the floor. He grabbed the hatchet and pulled it towards him just as one of the creatures began sniffing the air.

It let out a short but deliberate snort. Now all their heads turned toward him and Martin began crawling backwards, trying to put as much distance as possible between him and them.

Suddenly, they shrieked simultaneously. Martin struggled to his feet, keeping the hatchet at a defensive position. His mind replayed the image of Hank getting torn apart as the seven creatures cautiously approached him with mouths agape, white foam collecting at the corners.

One edged closer, braver than the others. Martin focused on that creature; if he could kill it decisively, it just might intimidate the others into backing away. His idea clashed with the images of Hank’s last few seconds when the creature lunged.

Martin let out a loud cry and swung the hatchet as hard and precisely as possible. The blade struck the creature’s ribs and forced its way through its body, severing its spine. It let out a choked cry as it flew and splattered against the wall. Crippled, its mouth snapped at the air. Martin brought the flat edge of the hatchet down, crushing its skull. He quickly turned his attention to its mates.

Maybe it worked. Maybe they -

The remaining creatures leapt into the air. Martin swung the hatchet wildly, connecting once but inflicting no real damage. He felt teeth and claws tear into his skin. Blood rushed out, washed away by the rain as Martin felt his strength fading fast.

One of the creatures bit through his Achilles tendon, sprawling Martin onto the floor. With their prey down, the creatures went berserk and ferociously ripped into his flesh…

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

LaLupa

It’s that time of month again and rent is due. Evening is falling fast, drowning the city in dark hues of purple. I’m starting to get a little edgy, a little nervous, as I walk to work. Every night is my first night, every night is my last night.

From outside it looks like any other exclusive strip club. Black painted walls and door, no signs, no neon. I’ve certainly done a lot worse. At least there are no homeless junkies sleeping out front.

The guy at the door gives me the once over and a nod of approval.

“Have a good night sweetheart,” he says politely as he opens the door for me. He has a neck like a tree trunk, a black tee shirt clings to pumped up muscle.

***

Inside it’s tasteful enough. The furnishings are plush red and black. Not too big a space, which is good. I like an intimate audience.

A cute blonde girl is stocking the bar. She smiles and waves at me cheerfully.

“The dressing room is through there,” she shouts.

In the dressing room, which is in fact a storeroom crammed with furniture and boxes of stuff, I meet Candy and Amber. There is always a Candy and Amber in every club. I put my bag down on a brightly lit table, glance at myself in the large mirror and sigh. I begin to unpack some things when Candy comes over for the standard welcome.

“Hi, I’m Candy,” she tells me. Her icy blue eyes sparkle. She stands too close to me, one hand on her hip. Her nails are long oval points, painted white. She is wearing a tiny silver dress; her fake breasts look painful and her skin is a baked orange colour. I stare back at her, bored. It’s that time of month. I’m cranky and hungry. I’ve skipped a few meals lately.

“This is my table. You can use one of those over there.” She points to the cluttered corner.

I get a flash of her gutted from neck to belly and I can’t stop my eyes from twitching. She says something else but I don’t catch the words; I have to concentrate, slow down my breathing. Amber comes over to mediate.

“Don’t worry about Candy, she’s just very territorial.”

Amber smiles warmly at me and gives Candy a nudge, unsettling her on her platform stilettos.

“I’m Lalupa,” I say.

“La what? Is that, like, a Mexican name?” Candy chuckles to herself and wanders over to a clothes rack to flick through costumes and lingerie.

“Have you met Andy yet,” asks Amber.

I shake my head no.

“Well you should get dressed and go meet him. If he doesn’t like your look he won’t let you work tonight.”

I nod and start getting changed.

Amber sits down at a table nearby and begins to style her long red hair. Soon a few other girls arrive. Chatter and laughter fills the dressing room.

I keep to myself, hoping not to get drawn into conversation. I don’t want to make friends and I’m eager for the night to get underway. I hate hearing the same old stories. I don’t care that you are stripping to pay for your law degree or that you have a happy husband and two kids waiting for you at home. I’m here because I like the thrill and the cash. A girl’s got to eat.

***

A wave of nausea rolls through me; my skin prickles with heat. There’s a stabbing pain building in my head. I take a few more deep breaths.

I prefer to wear a vintage style. Black lace corset, fine seamed stockings, shiny black patent heels – I hate those horrendous stripper platforms. My glossy black curls bounce around my pale face as I inspect myself in the mirror. Candy glances at me then mutters to her pals and a round of giggles erupts. Let them laugh. While they can.

***

I find my way to the manager’s office. He’s chatting with a guy sitting by his desk. I stand in the room, still and silent like an ornament, waiting for him to acknowledge me.

They’re both wearing tailored grey suits. Merino wool, I can smell it. Silk ties and crisp fine cotton. Their short haircuts are gelled carefully to appear casually tousled. Thick designer cologne cloaks their skin. A fresh ocean scent with base notes of vanilla and spice. Beneath the cologne is the distinct stench of their sweat. Lean, firm flesh, rippled with fine streaks of fat. My mouth begins to water again.

Finally he looks over at me.

“Nice outfit honey,” he says, “but I hope it comes off pretty quick, this is not a burlesque club!”

He laughs a dry, cruel chuckle and the other guy chimes in. Flesh taut with obsessive exercise and a diet of fine food, tears off the bone in thin strips.

“House takes fifteen percent?”

“Straight down to business. I like it. That’s right honey, House takes fifteen percent, the rest is yours. Pretty generous for a classy place like this. Tonight’s a trial shift. If I like your routine and you’re hot on the floor you can come back tomorrow night.”

“I’m always a crowd pleaser.”

“Are you now? Well, good for you! You’re on after Candy. She’s a hard act to follow.”

Now it’s my turn to laugh, which confuses them for a moment.

“What’s your name again, honey?”

“Lalupa.”

“Lupa? Okay, have a good night honey, milk ‘em dry.” They both chuckle as I turn to leave.

***

Things start to heat up as the night rolls out. I stand at the bar, trying not to shake or twitch, and watch the patrons come in, waiting for a likely hit. I watch the other girls too, as they saunter, smiling, chatting. They look delectable.

I set my sights on Mr. Average White Collar and strut over casually. He is self-conscious and uncomfortable and will easily blow all his cash on me.

I give him a sweet girl next door stripper smile and ask if he wants a dance. He nods and throws back his Scotch as I step in close and begin to sway and swish, swivel and shake. He pays generously but I decide to keep moving; his anxiety is irritating. I circle the floor, bidding time, choosing the men I want to dance for and chat to. I ignore the ones who are too obnoxious or rude. Andy is poised at the bar, watching me and frowning.

Candy comes on stage to cheers and whistles. With a beaming white smile she waves at the audience, blowing kisses, striking provocative poses. Obviously the darling of the club but I’ll soon change that. I head to the dressing room to freshen up.

***

The moon is full and high in the sky. I can feel it, gleaming, beckoning. It’s making me tremble.

Finally the DJ cues my music and I take the stage, happy to be in the limelight.

I love working the pole; I have a real talent for it. My unnatural dexterity gives my routine a flowing ease. I radiate confidence and power. Men sense it, they sit up in their seats, intrigued. Soon all eyes in the room are on me. The men are under my captivating spell – the women glare at me jealously. I’ll be cleaning up tonight. I’m going to empty their pockets. As I dance I’m checking the exits, scanning the room with all my senses. There are never too many for me to handle.

I can feel it coming as I spin and twirl, bubbling under my skin, beginning to shiver through me, a blissful terror. I get so excited I grit my teeth to hold it back. I like to hold out as long as possible, give them a bit of a show first. After all, I’m a really hot dancer. I stretch my fine limbs, shimmy and slither. With legs wrapped around the pole I use my free hand to unhook the corset and flick it off. Men cheer. I flex and hang upside down, spinning slowly. I close my eyes and enjoy the rush. It’s that time of month and I can’t resist it anymore. The moon is singing to my soul and I need to respond. A growl builds in my throat as I embrace it. It is so close to the surface now, about to burst out of me.

***

The men in the front row see it first. Something strange is beginning to happen.

Hair sprouts, thin and fine, along my forearms and thighs, on my chest. It spreads slowly until a dense fur covers me.

A few men chuckle thinking it is part of the routine. I can see Andy, still standing at the bar, looking really pissed off. I can make out the confused faces of the women, frozen in mid lap dance, staring at me.
My body buckles and shakes, I can no longer hold it back or slow it down. I love this part, morphing from an object of desire into an object of terror. I love seeing their faces change, from lust to disgust. I drop from the pole to the floor as the bestial force surges. I begin to convulse. Nobody comes to my aid. Everybody watches. I can feel their bubbling fear, their fascination and perverse satisfaction.

My knuckles bust through skin; tendons bulge. A wail of pain escapes me as I paw at my face with bloody hands. My head is down and they can’t see my jaw stretching, sharp fangs painfully pushing out of tender gums. Thick whiskers sprout on my cheeks and chin. My black curls stream down my back in a heavy mass. The crack of joints and stretching bones, each vertebra popping, the wet sticky sound of elongating sinews and muscles, resounds in my ears.

Finally it is complete and I crouch, heaving from the exertion. My breath begins to slow down as I settle into my new form.

There is complete silence in the club. The DJ has stopped the music, the patrons and staff stare at the creature on stage.

I lift my head and they see me for what I am. I watch them with eyes glowing yellow. I raise my snout and sniff deeply; terror, glorious, delicious terror. And a comforting, familiar smell; my pack. They are here. They have entered the club and are manning the exits.

I stretch, throw back my head and howl –  a maniacal call. Screaming begins and in that fantastic moment, as hysteria breaks out, I plunge.

I take out the line of guys down front, one after another, with fast swipes. Shredding them easily, ripping chunks out of their chests and thighs as I take their wallets. Green bills flutter and float, drifting down into growing pools of blood.

There is no way out; my pack closes in. They are crouched, snarling, snatching the runners and pinning them down. The thick smell of slaughter erupting is intoxicating.

I leap from the stage and land on the bar. I can hear the bar girl, curled underneath the bar, sobbing. I glare at Andy as I crawl towards him slowly. He doesn’t move as I sniff his chest. I can hear the frantic beat of his heart. His eyes are wide with shock. I bite off one of his arms. He begins to emit a high whine, not quite a scream, a peculiar dying noise. I take a chomp out of his chest, snatching out his heart, and gulp it down greedily. He drops to the floor and I on top of him.

I leave my pack to finish off the crowd. I am drawn by another exhilarating smell. Several dancers have locked themselves in the dressing room. I can hear their hysterical, muffled tears.

***

I tear the door off its hinges and they burst into screams, scampering into the corner. They dare not glance at me. My beauty is of another realm. Covered in coarse hair, mangled claws for hands and feet, sharp-pointed ears and snout, breasts hanging long and loose. I roar at them and they shriek, huddling closer like mice.

I can no longer make out individual faces. I scoop up one of the girls, collecting her by the scalp. I lick her skin. She is coated in so many strange flavours; sweat, tears, alcohol, makeup, deodorant, talcum powder.

I bite into her neck and shake her vigorously. Each taste makes me more ravenous. I eat quickly, snapping spines, crushing skulls, crunching bones, guzzling organs. A decadent blood drenched mess surrounds me.

***

It’s that time of month. I am not quite myself. I am more than myself. The full moon is glowing as bright as the sun; it makes me ache with rage. I howl a blissful song but my hunger is far from satiated. I leap at the small window in the room, tearing away the bars and bricks. I bound out into the warm night; the city is a feast waiting to happen.

~ Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved

Inner Workings

This was the fourth one this week and James could easily do four more. Truth was, there could never be too many.

He pushed the door open and a wicked grin crossed his lips while the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes etched deeper into place. James was an addict and this was his drug. The arousal that built inside of him as he entered his ‘studio’ could never be matched by any other drug or the touch of a woman. His skin flushed with heat; his body knew what joy his actions would soon provide.

He entered the room to find the unconscious woman on the table in the center of the space, her arms and ankles bound to the cold steel table. The familiar scent caused butterflies to take flight in his belly as if it was his first time. His hand trembled as he stood over the assortment of scalpels and retractors spread out in front of him. Though adrenaline forced his unsteady nerves, the smooth, rigid instrument in his hand always steadied him. He was born for this.

Holding the scalpel in one hand, he drew in a cleansing breath, holding it momentarily before exhaling. With his empty hand, he pulled back on the tender flesh of the woman’s belly before placing the blade to the taut skin. James drew the blade in a meticulous manner, splitting the pale skin to reveal the glistening thin layer of yellow fat just beneath the surface.

His racing pulse slowed to a rhythmic thumping in his ears as it always did when he was focused. He watched the rise and fall of her chest, in awe of the fact that she was alive though did not feel or react to the incision. As he worked his way deeper into the site, he became fully aroused when his hands pressed deeper inside her abdomen. The warmth, the wetness, all of it inebriating. Modern medicine was a spectacular thing; so easy to render someone unconscious, too easy.

He continued to work his way through her layers until a curious smile etched its way onto his face. James worked quickly and soon held the treasure of his search in the palms of his hands. He removed the contents and time seemed to stop. His pulse hammered as the silence grew deafening. The others in the room moved to his side, each one gazing at the prize he held at arm’s length in front of them.

James passed the bloody mess to their groping hands and they scurried around the room in controlled frenzy, each taking turns poking and prodding, pulling and stretching. He looked into the face of the unconscious woman and tears pooled in his eyes. She’d sacrificed so much and would continue to do so for many years to come.

Nearly thirty minutes later, James’ work was complete and he rested his hand on the forehead of the woman who was now semi-conscious, her glassy-eyed gaze a clear indication that she was not fully aware.

He simply smiled and took one last look at the group huddled in the corner before walking to the door. Just as he reached for the handle, it swung open and a woman stood in front of him.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said.

James smiled and stepped aside, gesturing the woman inside. “That’s quite alright.”

The woman returned a coy glance and stepped into the room. “You too, Dr. Green.”

James removed his surgical cap and left the room, leaving the doting parents to tend to their filthy, screaming newborn. James never did care for children, though the insides of a pregnant woman were especially intoxicating to him.

James learned early on that he had a craving for exploring the inner workings of living things. His obsession started with small things; lizards, frogs and such. Soon though, they didn’t satisfy his morbid curiosity and neighborhood cats began to disappear.

After much counseling and failing to assure his parents and therapists that he wasn’t a vicious person, he learned to hide his obsession. After watching a documentary on surgeons as a teen, he decided to create the perfect persona that would allow him to indulge his macabre fascination. He’d become a surgeon. Not only would he be allowed to feed his odd hobby, but society would pay him handsomely for it.

Dr. James Green, renowned surgeon to the stars, was indeed the perfect wolf in sheep’s clothing.

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.

Ward

Worse still than the muffled oppression of the hallway was the medicinal bouquet that squeezed her throat. If she walked much further, she feared she might not draw a breath at all.

The clamminess of their grasp grew uncomfortable. Glancing downward, she caught the shimmer in her daughter’s wide eyes. “It’s okay. I brought you here so you can get better.”

Around them, activity bustled. Behind closed doors nurses vanished, while doctors, studious fresh faces half concealed by clipboards, sauntered by. A shriek sang out – then snipped – suppressed from somewhere down the never-ending hallway. Her eyes darted downward again, but if her daughter had heard, she never let on. The child stared quietly ahead. “Sometimes people here hurt.” Lying would accomplish nothing at this junction. People here did hurt. “But only for a little.”

The hallway widened, allowing for the girth of a large, horseshoe shaped desk. Hand raised high, a guard approached. “What do we have here?”

“A walk-in”

“Is that all?”

“Yes.” She felt the squeeze of small fingers. “We’re hoping.”

Behind the desk, a rosy-cheeked nurse lifted her head. She scrutinized them, then nodded toward the guard. “I’ll call ahead,” she said.

“Okay,” the guard nodded in turn, attention now seized by his crooked badge. Fingers fiddled across his chest. “Walk to the end. Double doors on the right.”

They continued along. Her throat began to burn, and it became quite hard to breathe; the air spiced with blooms of Lysol, the ghosts of cleaning agents. She prayed she would forget that scent once they arrived back home. Home – what remained of it, anyway. Fresh baked brownies once served as a shawl there; cut flowers from the garden once enveloped them both. “We’ll be done and home before you know it.”

Another cry resonated; soon it died. Cut off. No doubt, her daughter had heard it this time; no doubt, it came from beyond the double doors. Sweat pooled between their palms but neither mother nor daughter released their grasp. “Sometimes people here hurt,” she reminded.

They walked until they could walk no longer. She glanced backward. Endlessly, the hallway stretched behind. The guard watched them, fingers still dabbling with his badge. Defiantly, she flipped strands of hair from her face, then followed her daughter into the ward.

Immediately silence consumed them, betrayed only by their hastened breaths. Partitions lined the walls. She lingered before one, sweeping aside the fabric drape liner that sealed its interior from view. An empty medical bed, sheets crisp and stark; a stainless steel table. Various monitoring equipment; a Dinamap loitering in the far corner. It all appeared so cold, so impersonal. Any trace of caring had long since been sterilized. The drape liner fell back. “Come.”

Mother and daughter moved along. They moved from the partitions and entered the main hub of the ward. At last, someone sauntered to their assistance – a nurse, frayed pigtails protruding from either side of her head. “Sorry, busy, busy. Now, what’s our emergency?”

She pressed hard against the small fingers. “Verbal abuse.”

“Eighth one today. Are we fixing this for good?”

Her fingers squirmed, intensifying the heat between them. “Yes.”

“I hope so for your sake. We have your consent, then?”

She broke free from their clasp.

“Your consent?” the nurse demanded, pigtails spinning in clumsy circles.

A pained expression corkscrewed her face as small fingers gripped her wrist. “Yes.”

The nurse snatched her away. It happened with frightening speed; how could such a small thing move so quickly? She struggled, grasped at empty air, but the rope binding her hands restricted her movement and the nurse – the nurse well practiced at preventing one’s escape. She twisted her head; behind her, small fingers fluttered.

Waving goodbye.

Dragged along her heels, doors sprung open to either side. The commotion assaulted her ears; the shouts, the commands for preparation. Hands, soft yet so strong in their urgency, held her down atop a gurney. She saw them all then, scurrying about – the children, the damned children of a world turned upside down, doling out their judicial punishments as they saw fit. A freckled face boy of ten stood over her, scalpel in one hand, forceps in the other. “Your tongue, please,” he smiled and tore at the duct tape, freeing the lips her daughter had sealed. She screamed, but the doors slipped shut, her cries taken prisoner within the ward.

Then she understood why people here hurt.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2012, 2013, 2014 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

The Other Side of Bethlehem

Soft caressing satin sheets the finest weave
laid out awaiting our grey mistress
today the surroundings a lowly cave
but tomorrow she says ” it will be a palace”
for she is deserved of the world’s best

*

We shudder as she draws near
her greatness is in contrast to our lowliness
I behold her and see earth’s riches clear
etched in her skin, reflected off her eyes, in her touch
my mate is poised to rearrange all and such

*

Fearing that the perfumes and oils
do not emulate her beauteous perfection
we like dogs in our groveling toil
have no ability to bark
we whimper at her approach in the dark

*

She kicks my mate across the rocky ground
“FOOLS don’t you know what is occurring
can’t you hear the angels’ grating sound?”
we had been too busy to listen to music
so heavenly, it would make a person sick

*

My eye twinkled if just a speck
it was but for an instant
she laid her iron clad foot on my neck
“if you smile (even inside)
you’ll hear the crack of your demise”

*

I lay in submission complete
I was feigning it (a little)
heavy golden foot slight release
I relieved to set candlelight free
not too much, only enough to see

*

“The light I so detest
had to come inside to get away”
I shook my head in unknowingness
it’s night, the darkest part of the year
light can’t from darkness just appear

*

“I’m weary and must go to my chamber
You – lay offerings at the idols’ feet
I need peace from the racket – Out There”
see pointed with icy white fingers
little of life in her form still lingered

*

Her heart didn’t beat for it was stone
her evil was forged and elemental
“Give them extra measure, from your supplies atone”
I tried to shrug off the hunger, tho not slight
I extinguished the small amount of frigid light

*

Shivering my mate small and forlorn
we survived because we had each other
we, like two sides of a penny worn
I warmed her with my body, licked her face
unusual trembling, her heart seemed to race

*

Her head faced the night so clear
“Let’s go see”
she whispered silently in my ear
“Do we dare?” my collar seemed to tighten
“I must gaze on the place that it brightens”

*

She stood up courageously on two legs
the cave entrance bathed in golden light
I crawled behind her so afraid
echo of heavenly host in notes so high
we saw what should have been an ink dark sky

*

Silver musicians I couldn’t count
filled midnight expanse
beyond calculations, a large amount
“Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace
among those with whom He is well pleased”

*

The music echoed off the earth it seemed
and somehow I knew the star
its chorus about the universe beamed
“There…” my love pointed to a distant cave
“We cannot, we are but unworthy slaves”

*

“Who cares about that when there is this…”
she ran flinging her hands out like a bird (or an angel)
her radiance I longed to kiss
I stood bathed in the light
wishing to cling to my miserable plight

*

Afraid of the consequence
I pondered the words “Glory…”
heard screams from my mistress incensed
“I must have peace no matter the price
feed the idols more grain, the amount twice”

*

(it was my hands she forced to feed)
My mate was gone from sight
I heard her voice on a gentle breeze
it caressed my cheek
“Join us in the light,” I heard her speak

*

“I cannot my mistress will destroy me.”
“No, you will finally be free!”
The breeze turned into a stiff wind
I cowered and clung to the rock
I felt sharp tendrils bite into my skin

*

With authority a breath spoke, “be gone”
reaching, passing through my soul
it had wrapped itself about the idols
flung against rocks on the hill
my mistress flew in storm’s fiery will

*

Unclothed she looked weak, undone
bone stacked upon brittle bone
white rage sprang like an afterthought
she ran toward the dust
lifeless she sifted through the miry plot

*

Her mouth foamed with impotent waves
“we will forge anew”
her promise to save
“we will gather strength and overpower this…”
weak was her fury filled hiss

*

Caring little I slunk away
wishing I had run down the hill
like a curious lamb with my mate
instead I crawled and under my breath
“grant me a swift wintry death”

*

I heard the night sky
continue to sing
“I will find peace…” my mistress’ cry
with one final energized shout
clumps of dirt hanging from her mouth

*

She strove to ingest her god’s earthen morsel
“There is no peace for the wicked”
I heard a sylvan voice chortle
light like a broad sword struck the plot
she deserved what she got

*

my fingers clung to the foul ground
hoping by day, I would never be found.

 

~ Leslie Moon

© Copyright 2014 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved

Broken Banquet

I

The forest is starving. Overhead the sun dies, bathing the branches in the pink glow of dusk. Walkers do well to avoid these parts but John knows them like the lines of his own face. His trade depends on them. Allerwood Jam sells as far as Netley, so it seemed only natural that his wife and he should move close to the forest’s borders, when they finally decided to settle down. They first met picking raspberries in the bracken behind what is now McCready’s farm. Grace loves natural produce at least as much as he does. Out here, on the outskirts of the village, they are free to live a quiet life, largely separate from the rest of Lynnwood. Almost twenty years later, they have not looked back.

The ground crunches beneath his boots as a wind sighs through the trees, rustling the few leaves and testing the branches. Their creaks carry on the air, a hundred groans bringing the forest to uneasy life. Knotted faces with deep grooves stare at him from the hollows of trunks and on more than one occasion he fancies he sees movement through the black glassy trees. The trees are weary of the winter and he is no different. He can hear it in their creaks as surely as he feels it in his own bones. Stepping around a bend in the path, he emerges into a small clearing.

This is one of his private places. There are several, in the vicinity, from where he harvests fruits and berries the year round: rhubarb in the spring, blueberries and raspberries when summer is high and blackberries in autumn. Sometimes, if the winter is mild or he gets to them early, he finds apples too, but not often, and not this year. This year there is only cold, and death.

He found the rabbit not far from here, almost two weeks ago. Ribs had pressed visibly against its thin underbelly, its black eyes trapped behind a layer of frost. One of its paws had snapped clean off. This in itself was not shocking; he has grown used to such sights over the years. It was the sudden similarities between this dead thing and his daughter that had weighed heavily on him.

The ground is sparse, save a carpet of thin roots, winding their way into the earth. Moving to the edge of the clearing, where the barren undergrowth makes something of a return, he begins his hunt. He cultivates beetroot here, where the shade is weak in the day. The root is hardy, even against the bitter frost. He slips a knife from his long overcoat pocket and begins to scrape at the soil. His fingers are white, or blue. It is hard to tell in the fading light.

He will find the beetroot and return home, before the coldness truly sets in. He left the house first thing this morning and hasn’t seen Bianca since last night, when he tucked her in for bed. He thinks of the rabbit again, and shivers.

Bianca loves beetroot and he won’t disappoint his little one so close to Christmas. Boiled, pickled, in sandwiches and on salads. He would bring her an armful, if he could find it, to keep her strength and her weight up. For several minutes he goes on, his efforts fruitless. The leaves are here but he cannot break through the earth to the taproots. Determined, he takes to stabbing the soil with the knife-blade.

A flash of purple leaps from the earth. His hopes leap with it, only to be dashed when the thing squirms violently from his touch. The fat worm lingers for a moment before burrowing away. The encroaching cold nips at his flesh as, wrapping his overcoat tight around him, he rises from the ground. It is too late now. He will have to return tomorrow, with daylight and a spade, and dig properly.

His teeth chatter, his breath white on the air, as he turns and strides from the clearing, alone except for thin trees and thinner shadows stretching from their trunks.

II

Grace’s breath clings to the window; a delicate whiteness that turns the glass pane foggy. Her eyes crease then soften as a shadow at the forest’s edge steps out towards her cottage. Its confident stride bears it purposefully closer and she fancies she can see John’s face; the warmth of his brown eyes, his sleek black hair and delicate lips, offset against that proud jaw.

The wind howls, the trees shiver and the man is but a shadow again.

“Mum?”

She turns from the window as Bianca’s bedroom door swings open. The cottage is old, its layout mostly confined to the ground floor. There is an attic, where they store furniture, and a small basement filled with their jams. When Bianca is older they might have to address the issue of space but, for now, the build suits them well.

“And what are you doing up, young lady?”

“I had a dream.”

Her daughter stumbles sleepily into her arms. Her pajamas are deceptive but, pressed against her, she is as hard as ice. Bones protrude where there should be soft flesh as she trembles in Grace’s arms. Kneeling down slowly, she reaches out to sweep the hair from the girl’s eyes.

“Let’s get you some blankets to warm you with.”

“No, I’m not cold!”

“Well let’s find some blankets anyway, for me, then. You can tell me about your dream.”

“I was lost in the forest.”

“And what were you doing out in the forest on your own?” she asks, carefully pulling the throw from the sofa. Bianca stands unmoving while she drapes the throw around her daughter’s shoulders.

“I was looking for Dad. It was dark but I could see everything below me clearly. I felt like I was flying.”

“Did you find him?”

“No, but I saw other things, moving between the trees. Swarming like ants, or the spiders you sweep from under my bed. All arms and legs and they were covered in blood –”

“Bianca –”

“But they were, and when they looked up their eyes were wide and white, so white –”

“Nightmares aren’t real,” she comforts, leading the child over to the glowing fireplace. “And besides, your father will be back soon.” The fire smolders in the hearth. Chunks of charcoal bake in its embers. Already the girl is starting to feel warmer in her arms. “Forget it all, it was just a bad dream.”

“It wasn’t bad.”

“What?”

“It wasn’t a bad dream. I could feel everything, like it was all me. I was in the trees and the ice and the blood of the things below –”

“Bianca –”

“Cold but hungry –”

“Stop, Bianca. That’s quite enough of that.”

They sit together by the fire for a while longer, toasting their hands and feet, before she sends the girl back to bed. Not until the bedroom door clicks shut does she move, returning from the crackling fireplace to her previous post at the window. Snow has started falling, blanketing the night-time forest in a crisp white cape. Although she has stood at the window a hundred times before now, she decides the forest looks different tonight. She sends a thought to John, wandering somewhere beneath the old aller trees. She wishes he would hurry up. The beet doesn’t matter anymore. There are other days to forage. It will do more harm than good for him to linger in the dark.

III

He will be home soon, if he picks up his pace. In a matter of minutes he could find himself looking across a steaming casserole and a generous pint into Grace’s face. Even after twenty-two years, she is no less beautiful than the first day they had met.

He has always felt different to other people. The world is moving faster than he can keep up with. Their traditional ways are almost dead, but the village offers some respite. Here, between the trees, they are free to be themselves. Grace understands this. Tired, hungry and alone in the cold, he has never missed her more.

The wind whines through the treetops, carrying with it a flurry of snow and ice and something else that Midwinter’s evening. He turns in time to see an owl as it soars overhead.

The bird is beautiful. It glides silently, like a ghost, its creamy feathers stark against the blackness of the night sky. There are not many left, now, here or anywhere; ghosts in more than just appearance. Perhaps the cold has driven it here. Perhaps its business is not so different to his own. The night-time forest is full of hunters and their prey.

He is about to resume walking when another shape catches his eyes. Pale against the black night and thin enough that he had taken it for outstretched branches, the silhouette springs from a tree onto the passing bird. The owl’s scream pierces the woods as it is snatched from the sky.

“What –”

A mass of shadows erupts from the undergrowth around him. Limbs flail like leafless branches, skeletal and pale in the moonlight. Moans of relief rise over desperate gasps. He turns to run, but makes no more than a few steps before long fingers find his neck. They are a woman’s hands, stained red, reminding him of Grace’s fingers, all those years ago, their tips coloured bright with raspberries. Then other hands grasp his arms and the softness of his stomach and he crumples to the earth, blanketed by a frenzy of feverish activity.

IV

Grace has just set a saucepan of water to boil when something scuttles overhead. She shouts as she jumps, knocking the pan to the floor. Warm water spills out, running quickly into the wooden cracks, but her attention is fixed on the ceiling. There is movement in the attic; a definite scrabbling, as though something small is seeking entry to the house. If the squirrels are back, there will be blood on her hands this evening.

Bianca does not seem to have woken, at least. She offers a silent prayer of thanks. It would do the girl’s childish imagination no good to hear the noises petering down from the above.

After a minute of silence she stirs, and in ten steps has retrieved a broom from the utilities cupboard. The broom feels reassuring in her grasp, like it belongs with her, and she it. There isn’t much in the world she can’t shift with this broom, she reminds herself, or else beat senseless. Moving to stand beneath the attic trapdoor, she brings her weapon of choice to bear on the old wood.

Three thuds reverberate throughout the cottage before the trapdoor falls open and a thin ladder slides out. Peering upwards, she places a foot on the first rung.

With a splintered crash the cottage door blows inwards. The window shatters and her world with it, shards of ice and glass scattering across the room. The ceiling spins as she tumbles from the ladder to the floor, her heart hammering in her chest. The cold rushes inside and, with it, a dozen figures.

She guesses a dozen, but there might be more, the room seeming to blur around her. She does see thin arms, long-fingered hands and pale skin made pink and blue from the cold. The icy air fills her eyes and mouth, and with it the sweet tang of spoiled meat. She has smelled it once before, when their dog had crawled beneath the cottage to die three years ago.

One of them hovers by the doorway, neck stretching as it seems to scent the air. Eyes flutter as its mouth opens and in a moment of sickness she feels its hunger inside herself. The room is still spinning, her surroundings stretching, the open mouth gaping wider and wider until there is nothing else but the blackness of its throat, impossibly black, an abyssal blackness with no end.

She has heard tales of the Gluttons, had been warned about them when she was a young girl, but she had never taken them seriously. Perhaps it is the nature of the hungry, to forget. She had heard that before, too, at the Christmas market one year. Witnessing the stark truth of these bony limbs, these wasted arms and mouths dark with old blood, she knows she will never forget again.

She seems to feel their hands on her all once. The famished throw themselves over her, claiming her for their own; joined by every thumbprint, ever finger, every palm wrapped tightly around her skin. She burns with their cold touch. Light flickers overhead as faces swim before it, and she imagines the winter sun, speeding low through the sky, its dappled light fractured by the treetops. In this moment she is one with these ghouls, made whole by their beating hearts, their desperate breaths; their endless hunger on this, the longest night, when the stomachs of every man, woman and child roar in anticipation of the coming festivities.

It is their human hunger, and it is the hunger of the trees around her. Branches bite her arms, and the back of her neck as she tumbles into the cold outside. It is the ravening winter, gnawing at her eyes and hands and the soles of her feet, and the insatiable night, stripping her of sight, of self, of any awareness save that of appetite. She screams, and her voice is voracious. She howls and her song is hunger. She moans and the swarm moans with her; a chorus at once nourished by the abyss and obliterated by it. She lives and dies and feeds in the darkness.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2014 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved

Damned Words 10

door

Misery
Thomas Brown

Misery rolled with the dogs in the shadows of Tompkin’s shed.

On August 25th, 1968, Mike Callahan hung himself from a cross-beam in the ceiling. The wood was old and riddled with rot but it held his weight well enough.

On July 13th, 1985, Sarah Paulson was stabbed in the neck while tending to the potted bulbs on the windowsill. She died instantly. The bulbs never sprouted.

1989, fire. 1997, rape.

In 2001, the Tompkins moved in. The shed became a doghouse. Two-year old Muttley howled perpetually. Three coats of paint couldn’t hide the stains seeping through the skirting board.


Inner Sanctum
Jon Olson

Don’t open it! Leave it shut! You must not let them in. I know you’re tired. You spent years building this place; this hideout; this inner sanctum. Yes, although you can’t see them, your victims are in here too. They coax you to open it; to reveal yourself to the real world. It would be so easy, so relieving, to turn the knob and walk out. No more hiding or pretending. But then what? What will you be out there? Condemned. In here, you rule; you are god. That’s right, step back and let’s go find us a new victim.


Home, Never Sweet, Home
Tyr Kieran

Standing in this place again, after all these years, makes my scars tingle. I swear I can still taste the fear, the spilled blood, the unnatural appetites. Just by looking around, you can see that it was a house of torment; that the structure itself acquiesced to the display of wicked sins. And yet, despite the hatred I bear for my family and this past, I’ve always felt the need to return—a subconscious compulsion to revisit and relive. So, I’ve come back and brought with me this nice trembling family to whom I will gladly pass on the tradition.


Mind Palace
Zack Kullis

In prison I walked the only halls I could – those of my mind.  Once luxurious, they now sit in rot and degradation.  Twenty years ago this palace was filled with vivid splendor.  But memory without input is like a sail without wind – damned to stagnation.

I created this entire place, with the exception of a troublesome door in the darkest recess.  No longer able to resist, I open it.  A loathsome horde escapes and fills me with their cries of lunacy.  The open door shows my cell, its inhabitant raving.  My hoarse cackle echos that of the imprisoned maniac.


Portal
Magenta Nero

The force shredded the meat from her bones, flesh flaying like curls of thin paper. She felt herself as a trembling skeleton, the frame that once held her image, her story. Then that too disintegrated in the searing heat. You need to be on the brink to make a choice like that, to challenge the very fabric of the universe, to bend time to your will. The portal opens, a swirling whirlpool of unstable energy, threatening to fold in on itself and disappear. Time at her fingertips and no time to hesitate. She approached the blinding light, she stepped through.


Shadow World
Blaze McRob

One lousy layer of wood is all that separates me from what waits on the other side. Yet, I have fared better than the rest of the town. I am still alive.

I tried warning them, but they laughed at me the way they always did. When they came, it was too late. I should have just fucking gone and not worried about them. I did try. The fault is theirs.

I walk to the door, open it, and embrace the Dark. They are out there, shadows begetting shadows. No more waiting. I am ready.

I am one of them…


ZAP
Leslie Moon

Dusty are those memories: HORSE, the gas scooter we built, the telegraph system…

What is it that two tom-boys saw in that old shack? We imagined a spark could give us a glimpse into history. You held the wire while I hosed the area. You vanished with the last of the sparks; I kept the ashes.

Every year, I go back to find me and see you. I get one question – you always evade the Edison one. This year something is different instead of you answering a question about another century you’re holding a sparking wire and that same dripping hose.


Click
Nina D’Arcangela

Cowering in the corner, I muffle the ceaseless pounding upon my psyche with useless hands that cover my ears. The thunderous clamor from the other side continues night into day, day into night. I watch the walls quiver with each new assault upon my senses; the crack in the floor creeps closer and closer with each quake of the jam. Cold and alone, this huddling in dank misery seems endless. I crawl forward; the battering stills in pregnant pause. I reach for the key in the old lock; listen to its bare click as it disengages. The door swings open…


One-Third
Craig McGray

The world is different now, so fucking different. At first, things seemed random; pockets of disease spreading slightly before being contained, angry mobs destroying their own communities, financial crises. We were too arrogant to see the bigger picture, a picture that didn’t include more than two-thirds of the planet’s population. And now, I’m the one-third of my family still alive. I know what atrocities wait beyond that door because I’ve survived the horrors on this side of that same door. I step over the severed heads and gnashing jaws of my wife and son as I reach for the handle.


Part
Joseph A. Pinto

The chandelier hung here once; your eyes caught in its crystal, cast into a thousand shards, yet I could not see who you were. It is gone now. So are the tools that spurred us, tore all down. I have kept to my menial task of rebuilding; oh, the drudgery of my clumsy fingers through dust clotted hours of toil. Our palace razed, I recall the promise you once glimpsed through these slatted boards. I hold fast to that vision. Our walls crumbled; this foundation strong. You are part of it now. Each pass of my trowel layers your smile.


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.

Enough

The moonless night embraced Chris as he stood in the foothills high above the small town. He cowered underneath the empty sky and swallowed the bile that was his self-loathing.

Disgust paraded across his wounded soul like an ugly Mardi Gras procession, its movements suggestive of cutting, its rhythm a macabre lurching. Chris covered his ears in the quiet. Even when he was alone, he heard the ceaseless badgering that spewed out from the world. It berated his every move and word.

Work, school and seemingly every moment of his existence were filled with ridicule and scowls that screamed he wasn’t good enough. A few years ago he had reached out to somebody at the suicide prevention center, but the volunteer told him he was being a selfish kid that was just looking for attention. Even killing himself wasn’t enough. He screamed to the night until his throat hurt.

With the exception of his mother, he had never been good enough. She loved him and cherished him regardless of what happened, until dementia robbed her mind and callused her heart. His loneliness and aching consumed him after she was gone. It was all too much. A second guttural cry erupted from his quivering lips as Chris cursed the great emptiness above him.

He looked up at the sky, made blurry by wet eyes, and wondered why darkness couldn’t be darker, why the blade never cut deep enough. The blood was never enough to carry him away, and the darkness of the night was never enough to hide him.

“It’s never enough,” he whispered.

The words bounced around in his mind with awful familiarity until Chris saw them for what they were. It was the same shit he had heard for years, and now those hateful seeds had sprung unwanted in his mind. He couldn’t allow himself to go down that path. His mind fought feverishly to come up with an answer.

He wiped the tears off his cheeks as he realized that he had been going about this all wrong. The night had always held him close, and it had given him comfort and listened to his cries. For years, it had whispered ideas of impossible freedom in his dreams. Why had he never listened to what the voices in the darkness said? No, the darkness of the night was right. It had always been enough.

What about the blade? Wasn’t it always enough for a release? It was the only thing that married pleasure and pain into a meaningful emotion that wasn’t riddled with hate.

The epiphany was sweet and impossible to ignore. He heard those same whispers that came to him in his sleep, and he knew he could do it – should do it. His desire to become closer to the darkness quickly turned into a raw urge. Chris slid out from the jacket he wore and took off his shirt. Cool air surrounded him, hugged him, and carried away his negative emotions. The whispers became clearer.

He quickly took the rest of his clothes off and gave himself completely to the night. The wind hardened his nipples, tickled the hair of his body, and buffeted his flaccid length like an ethereal lover. This was all he needed.

The night had taken his self-loathing and carried it away on its cool breath. He had only to give himself to the darkness and it would consume the bad. Chris ran some fingers over the scars on his arms and he longed for the blade and the pleasure of the wet cutting. Part of him wondered if he would need the blade anymore, or its accompanying blood, but he also knew it was his only access to pleasure. The wind brought the night’s whispering to him clearly and he smiled.

“Yes, there’s only one way to find out.” He took the knife out of his clothes and pressed the tip into his arm as he started down the mountainside.

The black night clung tenaciously to the early morning sky as his bare feet crunched across the dry grass in the yard. Chris still wondered about what he was going to do, but the darkness couldn’t be wrong. He stopped in the middle of the yard and looked at the fresh cut on his arm. It hadn’t given him the same release that it normally did. There was still the intoxicating mix of pain and pleasure, but something had changed. He had changed. Opening himself to the darkness had fundamentally altered him.

“Ergo,” whispered Chris as he pulled the knife out of the sheath, “the release must change.”

He used the edge of the Benchmade dagger to spread his drying blood across his arm. It was as dark as the deepest night. Chris looked up into the barren sky and spoke in reverent tones. “Under your potent gaze my blood is dark, just as you’ve made me.”

He slipped the dagger back into the sheath tied around his bare thigh and walked across the rest of the yard. His dirty feet stepped onto the smooth concrete of the patio. The basement door was unlocked. Chris stepped into the warm air and the smell of a home that was foreign to him. He walked into a game room and plucked two billiard balls off the table.

The ability and freedom to control his destiny was like a drug. He knew what he was going to do, and it made him feel like a god. Once he had accepted the empowering darkness of the night, he had become something more than he had ever imagined. He was enough.

Chris rummaged through three rooms before he found what he was looking for. His new fate had blessed him with a nearly empty home. The only person in the house was a guy that he had known in school years ago. This guy hadn’t been more antagonistic than the others, although he had beaten the shit out of him a few times, but that didn’t matter. What mattered now was the release. He had cut and shed enough – now it was time for others to provide him with what he needed and deserved.

The billiard balls knocked against each other as they fell into the toes of the sock. He grabbed the sock by the end and let the balls swing slightly as he walked over to the bed. The sound of snoring masked his approach. He swung the sock over his head as he watched the sleeping form. The guy’s name came to mind just as he woke up. Jason’s eyes fluttered briefly until he noticed the movement. He jerked in his bed, his face a picture of shock and horror, and started to cry out. The billiard balls picked up speed and Chris slammed them into Jason’s jaw.

The oddly quiet crunch of the broken jaw muffled much of the scream. Chris started to reach for the dagger when he saw that Jason was completely unconscious. He looked around and found a few ties in the closet and quickly tied Jason’s wrists and ankles to the bedposts. Once that was done, he walked back around to the head of the bed and pulled one of the billiard balls out of the sock.

He looked down at the unconscious form and was in awe over how easy it was. There was no fear. There was no remorse. It was just as the night had whispered it would be. He felt calm and at ease. If this was the price to live free and finally be enough, then it was something he should have done a long time ago.

Chris reached down and pushed the mangled jaw open. Jason’s eyes shot open and a scream erupted from his swollen face. Chris quickly shoved the billiard ball into Jason’s mouth, busting many of his teeth in the process. His victim thrashed frantically on the bed until he pulled the dagger out and flashed it before Jason’s eyes.

“Stop moving or things will get ugly.”

Jason kept jerking his legs and had almost ripped himself free from the ties. Chris shrugged his shoulders and picked up the sock with the other ball still inside. He swung it over his head a few times and brought it crashing down onto Jason’s leg. He had been aiming for the knee but hit the large bone just below it, breaking it with a dull crack. Jason screamed and he started to swing the sock and ball again. He smashed one kneecap and then swung the ball even harder, pulverizing Jason’s other knee.

Chris glanced at Jason’s face and saw that he had passed out again. “That won’t work,” he said as he dropped the sock. He slapped Jason across the face as he pulled his dagger out. Jason woke with a start and looked imploringly at him. He slowly moved his head side-to-side; his eyes spelled out the pleas his mouth couldn’t form.

“Your begging and crying won’t work, Jason. I’m not here for something as petty as vengeance. This is about the release, although you probably wouldn’t understand that. A guy like you would never appreciate it.”

Chris took the tip of the dagger and pressed it lightly against the flesh of Jason’s thigh. Jason went completely still, his eyes wide with terror. He sobbed and breathed heavily through his nose. Chris smiled as he spoke. “No, Jason, this hasn’t been enough yet.”

He watched with bated breath as he put a little more pressure on the dagger. Jason’s skin dipped slightly with the point, but couldn’t resist the sharp blade. The dagger sunk a few inches into the fatty tissue of Jason’s thigh. Chris ignored the thrashing and pushed the blade deeper before he started to cut down towards the ruined knee.

The blood ran freely. It coursed down Jason’s leg and mingled with the shocking white fragments of his shattered knee. Ecstasy filled Chris as he reveled in how bright the blood and bone were. He looked down at his naked body and realized just how excited he had become. This was what he had always wanted and needed. But there was one piece that was missing.

Chris pulled the knife out and felt the sudden urge to lick the blade. Was that it? The darkness within him intensified with the anticipation. He lifted the dagger to his lips. The blood smelled like a wet penny. Chris slid his quivering tongue down the flat portion of the dagger. The salty metallic flavor was at once both sweet and familiar. It was like Sangria with salt and iron.

“Still not quite enough,” Chris sighed.

He pushed the blade into Jason’s thigh again and started to cut back and forth like his mother used to do with rolls of liverwurst. Jason bucked and shook in the bed, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head as he fought to stay conscious. Chris reached down, grabbed a warm slippery chunk of flesh and pulled. The morsel was almost free. It was hard to see where it was still connected because of the massive pool of blood, but Chris felt around inside the wound and finished cutting the pieces of muscle that were still connected. The mass of tissue felt warm in his hand.

“Will you hold this for me?” Chris asked as he held the dagger out to Jason. He drove the dagger down into Jason’s gut and then held up the bloody chunk. Chris peeled the skin away from the fatty layer and smelled it. His excitement grew exponentially; his body responded in quivers. He opened his mouth and dropped it in. It tasted like nothing he had ever tried. His excitement reached a climax and he cried out through a mouthful of thigh.

Chris swallowed the tidbit and wiped the blood on his hands across his mouth, face and chest. Relief and pleasure rolled over him in waves. He looked into Jason’s face and saw no sign of disdain, no sign of ridicule or scorn. Jason’s agony and fear had replaced the hatred and judging. Only the night could tell him if he was enough or not. Never again would it be in the hands of another person.

“I’m almost done here,” Chris said as he reached for his dagger. “There is only one more thing to do.”

He grabbed the dagger and pulled it towards him. Jason’s gut split and leaked organs like a mass of thick worms. Chris scooped his other hand into the opening, pulling out more of Jason’s entrails until the abdominal cavity served as a bowl. He cupped his hand, filling it with the smelly ichor in Jason’s open wound and smeared it all over his body.

Chris finished covering himself and glanced back at Jason’s face. He was nearly gone. He took his bloody hand and caressed Jason’s face as a mother would a child.

“Thank you,” he said as he put the dagger back in the sheath. He stood back from the bed and relished the feeling of being enough. Chris knew this satisfaction was temporary, as it had been with the self-harm. But the night would fill both him and the sky again and give him the ability to be a god. He would be ready because he was finally enough.

~ Zack Kullis

© Copyright 2014 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved

Life In The Pit

I stood among chaos.

Bodies swarmed in all directions, screaming. My heart thumped, pounding erratically as if desperately trying to catch its breath. The mêlée—a whirlwind of life and death—churned around me. My clothes were spattered in mingled sweat and grime. The pit was terrifying.

I fought against the swell of sanity-breaking panic every single time I stepped into the pit and faced the sea of aggressors. It always felt like one against a thousand. It was hell. It was my job.

I enriched or ruined lives on a daily basis, my own included. As a floor trader for the New York Stock Exchange, I battled the greedy horde for a greater share of the same pool of wealth. Think of it as planned chaos brought forth by a den of thieves who were jockeyed by self-made Gods. No good would come from it and failure was never an option.

Life in the pit was intense. It was a constant physical and mental brawl. There were a few times where I felt like I was drowning in the crowd of jostling bodies, but I kept my head above water—for six years now—by moving, staying fluid, and working hard. Any moment not spent in the rough bump-and-grind of the fray, I would frantically scour through reports, analytics, predictions, news; praying for a tip that would offer the upper hand.

I can’t remember a day without barbed wired stress raking through my veins. I fear soon, either the thread clinging to my sanity will snap or a swollen blood vessel in my brain will rupture and drop me like a sack of wet concrete; just one more failed investment, one missed booming trend, or one more raw deal would be enough.

My last backfired barter came from Bryce ‘Midas’ Wentworth. You can guess why people called him that. He’d only worked the floor for eight months and was already the Trader of the Year frontrunner, earning the status through blind luck in cheap investments or twisted facts to saddle other traders with collapsing deals. He sabotaged my success on multiple occasions, each time punctuating the stolen deal with a toothy grin through the throng.

Just this morning, as I stood at the edge of the pit waiting for the bell to ring, he bumped past me, spilling coffee all over my shirt, flashing that grin.

“Pardon me,” he said, smiling. “But, I’m a busy man.”

The sight of him chilled my blood to a slow-moving slush. The hot beverage sizzled against my flesh; my pulse rising like hot mercury.

When the bell rang, it snapped my attention back to the pit.

Traders swarmed the floor, shouting and waiving paper slips at each other, and I relaxed my white-knuckle grip on the pen in my pocket.

Watching the pandemonium for a moment, I enjoyed a deep breath. For the first time, I felt calm and in control—comfortable in the chaos. Who knew that an old method, a simple decision, would set me free. I brandished a smile of my own and joined the dense crowd, weaving my way to the middle.

Wentworth doesn’t know that I served time in lock down before serving time in the pit. On the inside, we handled blatant disrespect a little differently. He’s gonna learn all about it. And, this time, I won’t even have to carve up a perfectly good toothbrush.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

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