Lung Berry

What I coughed up quivered like a wad of raspberry jelly. If I looked close enough, which I wouldn’t, I’d probably see little black specks as well, though they were far from seeds. I let my lung berry slide off my palm into the wastebasket by the daybed. My head spun for a moment and I gripped the edge of the mattress, my body tensing, waiting for another round.

It didn’t come.

Praise be. Testify and all that shit.

My lungs rattled like a broken catalytic converter, and were about as reliable as this point. I remember those damned revolting anti-smoking commercials they used to have on TV – back when there was TV. The last thing I needed was to see someone’s moldy neck hole or missing toes, yellowed stumps oozing with infection. They always played them during baseball games, when all I wanted to do was have a bite to eat and smoke my cigar in peace.

They said smoking would kill me.

Ha! Here I am, a goddamn mess but still kicking, and there they are, meat for the Pollywogs. I haven’t heard someone cry out for a while now. The Pollywogs must have gotten them all. Oh, I hear their roars all right, but I’m not afraid. I’m no use to them. Craplungs like me, we got a free pass when those black sperm beasties came charging out of cracks in the earth.

Who said lung cancer was a death sentence? Sure, it would kill me eventually, but better that than having my lungs ripped from me while I was still alive long enough to watch one of those things wolf them down like fat sardines.

There are only two of us left in the apartment building – me and Mrs. Church down in 3B. She’s pushing sixty, a lifelong asthmatic. In other words, a Craplung. We didn’t like each other before the shit hit the fan and don’t pretend to adore one another now. Sure, I bring her those puffers from ravaged drug stores every now and then, but all in all, we keep our distance.

Although there was that day I caught her bending down to pick some broken glass from the floor. Her robe opened up just enough for me to spy two smooth mounds of young looking breasts. I had to stop myself from grabbing them. It wasn’t like she could call the police.

No. Not Mrs. Church. She was only the last woman in the building, not the last woman on Earth. I wasn’t that desperate. Though I did drop a few over my knuckles that night. Too much pressure isn’t good. I think it feeds the cancer or something.

Time to get up. I see the bright pink of dusk outside my grimy window. The little bowl I used to fill with water for my cat Ted is bone dry. Ted went out for a stroll a week ago and he hasn’t been back since. I’d never seen a Pollywog rip the lungs from a cat or dog , but when things were going down, I spent a lot of time running, not observing.

For the past three nights, I’d been searching for Ted, right in the thick of Pollywog feasting time. They steered clear of me, one almost coming within ten feet before literally turning tail. It smelled like sea water, rotting vegetables and some kind of chemical. Not pleasant, but what about them was?

Opening a can of Fancy Feast – shredded chicken in sauce, Ted’s favorite – I grab a flashlight from the peg on the wall, don my fedora (yes, I was a hipster before the world ended) and walk out into bedlam.

I knock on Mrs. Church’s door. “You need anything while I’m out?”

She gives a quick reply. “Yeah, a medium steak from Morton’s.”

I walk away to her laughter. I think she’s becoming a Crazy. This whole situation can break your brain in two. She won’t be a problem. I can take her down if she goes full-on Crazy. Unless it takes her too long to turn and my cancer eats my muscles away. Don’t want that. I add ‘consider taking the old lady out’ to my to-do list. Proactive beat the hell out of reactive.

The night air makes me cough, but not enough to dredge up more lung jelly. Something darts between two cars up ahead. I don’t see it, but I know what it is.

“Here Ted.” I make little susss-susss-suusss sounds. I hear Pollywogs grunting and growling, but no meow.

“This isn’t for you, semen suckers!”

A pair of them round the corner, charging at me. They pull up short well before they get close enough for me to catch their aromatic stench.

“That’s right, Craplung on the prowl. Where the hell is my cat?”

I walk down the block, tapping the can, calling for Ted. Every now and then, I spy a Pollywog and have a little one-way conversation before it scampers away.

It’s then I realize, maybe I’m one of the Crazies. Who the fuck goes looking for a cat, blabbering to beasts from the planet’s center?

I get tired easy. I have to lean against a wire fence to catch my breath. I chuck the cat food over the fence. Maybe Ted will find it later. Maybe he’ll smell my scent and come back to where the rest of the food is.

I feel a humdinger of a coughing fit coming on, close my eyes and will it away. My lungs hitch painfully, but I don’t give in.

When I regain some equilibrium, I open my eyes.

A Pollywog, its black eyes inches from my own, stands before me. Up close, the smell is worse than ever. Its flesh looks wet, catching rainbows like spilled oil. Its tail swishes back and forth, sweeping empty cans and trash under a parked Honda.

The cough hits me like a rabbit punch. A fat gob of lung berry propels from my mouth, splattering on the Pollywog. It shrieks like a classroom of girls having a tub of tarantulas dumped on them.

As it runs away, I scream, “Chicken shit!”

Chuckling as I make my way back, I think I’ll reward my brush with the big bad Pollywog by demanding Mrs. Church shows me her tits. We may be the last of a dying race, but we’re still in charge. Might as well make the most of it.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved

Great Nyctaeus

The Number Forty-Nine lurches as it pulls away from the curb. Hydraulics hiss, and through the settling fog Max makes out brake lights, blinking indifferently in the drizzle. Teeth clenched, he gives chase, struggling against the stream of evening commuters.

Men and women obscure his way, laden with laptop cases and rucksacks, lost in their cell phones, oblivious to all but the hot jargon blowing from their mouths. He breaks from the crowd in time to see another flash of faltering brake lights in the fog. Then the bus slides into the haze and is gone.

Frustration flares inside him, to be swallowed by a void of overwhelming helplessness. Running a hand through his wet hair, he wishes again that he had left the office earlier. There had been a team brief. That file he could not leave unfinished, the conversation with Frederick in the meeting room, it all seems meaningless now in the absence of his lift home. The rain picks up, driving him to take cover beneath the bus shelter. A mad whinny, perhaps the screech of car tyres, fills the street.

In the wake of the six-ten, the shelter is abandoned. Max takes a seat on one of the benches, then stands and wanders over to the timetable. Graffiti obscures the arrival times beneath green stars and ugly swear-words. The next bus might be ten minutes or forty. His shoulder finds the metal post, cold but supportive, and for a moment he is tempted to wait. With a little luck he could be home within the hour.

The thought no sooner enters his mind when he turns up his collars, steps out beneath the sky, and makes for the nearest Underground station. Luck has not been on his side today.

The rain is merciless, and in moments he is drenched. His navy jacket darkens, his white shirt clinging to him like a second transparent skin. The commuter current drags him along.

The street blurs around him. Men and women become base silhouettes; shadows of people glimpsed in his periphery. Shapes sag, stooped against the weather, darkening like his jacket, and it is easy to imagine the rain is responsible; soaking the street, weighing it down, waterlogging the pavement and the people forced to use it. The fog lingers around the road, a blank canvas into which the silhouettes vanish, or reappear suddenly, chased into sight again by headlights and the breathy snort of car engines.

The entrance to the Underground yawns ahead. The current pulls him closer, and even though it is raining, and the station is his destination, he cannot help the wave of panic that crashes over him. Bodies press closer as the stream narrows; flesh and blood and corporate bones digging into his ribs, knocking his shoulders, finding the small of his back. As he approaches the turnstiles, he fumbles in his wallet for the monthly pass that will activate them. Then he is through them, and stepping onto an escalator.

He hates the Underground. If the city’s streets are its thumbprints then these subterranean channels are surely the bare soles of its feet; cankerous, black with grime and ripe with trapped human smells. He detects sweat, and smoke, and the imagined flavour of despair in this place where people crowd and the wind cannot reach –

Despair, but not darkness. Fluorescent strip bulbs line the ceilings, built into the brick or guarded behind strips of wire-mesh, their harsh light as merciless as the deluge outside, every cracked tile, every broken bottle, every billboard plastered with adverts illuminated in the unforgiving brightness. More graffiti covers one of the tunnel walls, language and art reduced to expletives in this place where there is no air and it is never dark –

A train roars through the station without stopping, and he realises he’s standing on the platform. He doesn’t remember stepping from the escalator or escaping the current, but he is here. Carriages shudder past, axles rocking, and he finds rhythm in their terrible speed. He thinks of carousels, and their bobbing steeds, and the motion of real steeds thundering across open fields with nothing but the breeze in their manes and the vast empty sky overhead for company. He used to ride, when he was little and he would visit his grandparents in Sussex.

He knows what it feels like, to take off with an animal and say goodbye to everyone and everything left behind. He didn’t appreciate it then, of course, but increasingly he has been remembering it now. He clings to the memory, covering himself with it, drawing it into him, soothing against his tired skin.

The times on the electronic board inform him that his train is due. He hears it first, its arrival announced by something halfway between a sigh and a mechanical scream. Then the carriages slide into view and he finds himself stepping on-board and finding a seat.

The inside of the carriage is no less bright than the rest of the station. Each seat is mostly plastic, with a covering of something intended to be softer. Stains and daily wear have made the fabric almost unidentifiable. He finds a seat at the far end, slightly away from the other passengers, as the train sets off again.

Alone, he stares at his reflection in the glass window opposite him. In the blackness of the tunnel, the window is a mirror. The harsh light is as unforgiving to his face as it was to the rest of the station. The bags under his eyes are heavy and dark, his skin pale, lips tight. Any traces of humour have been banished by the missed bus. Any traces of youth have been drained by the long day. He thinks again of his grandparents’ house in Sussex, and the horses in their stables, and the young boy who rode them. Eagerly, perhaps desperately, he searches his reflection, looking for some sign that his younger self lives yet, somewhere inside.

“Where are you?” he asks, watching the slight movement of his lips. “Where are you now?”

Lights flash behind the speeding carriage windows, and for a moment he thinks he sees something else through the glass; a horse’s head, thrown back, lips speckled with froth and blood. The glass clouds with hot breath as another giddy scream fills his ears. Then the train is slowing again, and he realises it is braking. Standing, he moves towards the door.

The rest of the carriage is empty. He does not know how long he has been sitting here, or which station they are pulling into. The name of their destination appears on a small screen above the connecting doors but the letters swim in and out of focus. Rubbing his eyes, he fumbles for the button that opens the carriage doors and disembarks.

The platform is similarly empty. He moves slowly towards the stairwell, possessed by the insane notion that he is on an abandoned film set after hours. His life up to this point feels like an act, a supporting part in someone else’s show, or less than that; a walk-on role for which he is not even acknowledged afterwards. He repeats his name to himself, to prove that it is real and it is his. The word echoes around him.

“Max-Max-Max-Max-Max…”

He is at the bottom of the stairs when he hears another sound in the station. Turning, he cranes his head. He is still alone, but the sound is clearer now, growing louder from the darkness either side of the empty train: the casual clatter of hooves against metal.

A part of him is drawn to the darkness of the tunnel. It seems an impossible thing here, where the harsh lights are unfaltering. In darkness there is comfort; respite enough from the rest of the world to draw real breath and find relief. It would be an easy thing, to wander to the edge of the platform and climb down. Then he hears the clip-clop of hooves again, and heavy breaths. When two white eyes appear, floating in the gloom, he turns and flees.

The steps are slippery, or perhaps it is his haste that makes him trip and fall. With delayed dream-momentum he stumbles away, up the stairs and the escalator long since switched off for the night. He races past the turnstiles, all set to open, and into the night-time street.

He does not stop running. He cannot remember ever having run so fast or with such wild abandon. Nor is he quite sure what he’s running from. He cannot see his pursuer but he hears its snorts, feels the warmth of its breath on his face and in his mouth. He tastes blood and sugar-cubes. Puddles shatter underfoot.

It has stopped raining, at least. The fog has lifted, too, the city glistening as though iced. He races faster through the streets, sometimes stumbling, other times reaching new found speeds, but the alleyways are never-ending. He wonders if he could run forever and still not escape, if there will always be another road, another side-walk, another set of street-lights illuminating his face, casting shadows beneath his eyes.

Headlights turn into the road ahead, and through a different kind of fog he remembers something; lateness, another run, the bus he should have caught to take him home. Lowering his head, he gives chase. The wind tousles his hair. The sound of his shoes marries with that of hoof-beats in the night.

It might be the same bus and it might not; the detail does not seem remotely relevant anymore. Exhilaration presses at his ribs, his belly, running like electricity through his limbs.

He remembers other missed buses, and board meetings in which his colleagues may as well have been speaking different languages. He remembers missing files and the inane chatter that spills from Frederick’s mouth whenever his colleague corners him in his office. He remembers the helplessness that consumed him, when he realised that he had missed his lift home. But he is not helpless now. In the cold night, with the wind in his hair and his eyes, he feels free.

The bus is slow, and in moments he has caught up with it. As he pulls parallel to the vehicle, he catches sight of his reflection again in the row of windows and finds himself changed. Slabs of muscle in his legs ripple with each stride, a vast belly swinging beneath him, hooves striking fiercely against the ground: Great Nyctaeus, reborn of this modern Hades!

Moonlight picks out his monstrous shape in majesty; slender but powerful as he thunders onwards. His eyes gleam like two pearls in his head. He glances once more at the windows, tossing back his broad neck. Pink foam from his muzzle flecks the glass.

A dream flits through his head: the sight of an open field beneath empty skies. Then it is gone again. Charging ahead, nostrils flaring, he chases the night through dark satanic streets.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved

Damned Words 12

ground_copyright
Trail Runner
Craig McGray

Mother Nature’s realm, the one place I feel at home and alive and deadly. I lie in wait. I’m anxious yet patient because I know one will come, and when she does, the waiting will make it all the more sweet. The anticipation builds until I feel like I may burst. Ah, here comes one now. Her shoes pressing into the moist soil and the pebbles crunching beneath her feet triggers my pulse to race out of control. Mmm. I slide the blade across my palm, the pain further heightening my senses. So beautiful, so alive. She has no idea.


Hands
Magenta Nero

Unmarked is the spot but I know the way, I walk there every night in my dreams. Twigs snap under foot, the lush canopy overhead casts dappled light on stones. Nobody knows your resting place and nobody misses you it seems. I return to unearth you, piece by piece, as on my mind the memories play. Carefully I take your hand in mine again. The knotted bones of our fingers slip together and lock. Your hand so thin, white and smooth, the flesh eaten away. My hand soft, pink and lined with the dirt of words I dare not say.


Wholesome Death
Zack Kullis

He huddled between the bush and his meal and snorted his frustration. Nocturnal eyes glared as the light spread across the ground and chased his protective darkness away. Grom dropped the glob of intestines and looked around for the hole to his clan’s subterranean home.

“Piss,” he gurgled.

Grom started to claw furiously at the elk’s belly, thinking he could hide inside the bloody carcass. He pulled out a pile of guts and dove inside just as the sun rose.

His large eyes peered out from the gore, hateful of the poisonous light that bathed the clearing in wholesome death.


Berserkers
Tyr Kieran

I spotted dragons on the water and rang the alarm—hammering the bell with all my strength—but, they were too fast. They hit the shore running, swatting away our arrows like pesky flies. Their strength and size was terrible to behold. We sent a barrage of prayers, efforts in futility as even God was outnumbered by their one-eyed Odin and his troop of Gods. Few survivors were taken, loot for the barter like gold and silver. I saw it all from the tower before fleeing into the forest where I lived out my days in fear of their return.


Street Walker
Thomas Brown

The woods sing to him, and their song is the howl of wild dogs. He wakes to it in his single apartment bed, nine floors above the city, and in the artificial pallor of the subway after long days at work.

There was a time when he wondered where the sounds came from, and why. Then he realised it was him. In this cold, grey place, he bore the forest in his flesh. He is the bear, the crow, the lone wolf with ravenous appetite.

In the relative dark of moonless nights, he hunts well by the glow of streetlamps.


Can You See Me?
Jon Olson

Can you see me? Nobody has yet. Look at that scenery. Rocks spread out like a carpet; foliage draped like tapestries; and sunshine illuminating a path. It looks peaceful, beautiful, undisturbed. Families walk through, children laughing with their parents unsuspecting. Who would feel the need to keep their guard up? This is their leisure, their getaway… and my hunting ground. They are my prey, carefree and oblivious to the danger; unaware of my presence. Slipping silently through the trees, I stalk, then strike. Their fear fills my nostrils; their blood my mouth; their screams my ears. Can you see me?


Intone
Joseph A. Pinto

I will not sing; listen if you wish to, but not today. Empty promises have turned me into a joke and I have finally bought into my own foreshadowing, granted the chance to call my parting shot. I struggle to realize this paradise surrounding me, struggle to be soothed under these vigilant boughs. But you had to know this day would come eventually, did you not? Don’t act surprised when you find me melded with the pores of the earth. Sit at the bole of this tree, write the lyrics I could never mouth, intone the good life I deserved.


Festering Evil
Blaze McRob

Twisted variants of nature rest, their moment of revenge at hand. Those responsible for the ruination of what they once were will pay the ultimate price.

Sunshine rocks the ravine, giving a false sense of bliss to anyone who might wander this way. Evil lurks, festering in the trees and rocks, licking its lips in anticipation of what is to come.

Foot plants sound, steady, unaware. The fool comes closer, not able to see the creatures blending so well into the rocks and trees. In a fraction of a second, the young man drops.

The polished stones drip with blood…


Aftertaste
Hunter Shea

Under the loose stones I laid her down to sleep – my rock, my love. Down the path where we once walked, two souls at nature’s end. To the place we shared our wonder, our hopes, and on that final day, my secret.

I wonder if the worms have hatched, wriggling from her flesh. Prying a stone from the wet earth, I breathe deep, lick its soiled bottom, feel the beetles skitter along my tongue.

Ah, it’s her taste I miss the most.

Was it wrong to tell her my fantasies? My desire to one day consume her fruited body?

Perhaps.


Prize
Nina D’Arcangela

Strike, squeal, wrap – a struggle to breath; it mistakenly exhales. Tighten the coil; death comes swiftly. I feast. My stomach distends; I lie baking in warm bliss. The day’s shine scuttles away; my body cools in concert. I follow, sluggishly laden with my prize. Smooth rocks caress my underbelly; a shedding begins. I slowly work my way through the the maze: peeling, sloughing, morphing; revealing. A tremor travels through the stone bed; my senses heighten. No rustle, no sound, only deep vibration. It approaches. The trail of flesh betrays me; a single glance ends me – the Basilisk is upon me.


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

The Lie

Screeching tires broke through the tunes raging in Mark’s headphones. He lifted a middle finger before he raised his eyes to see who was honking at him.

“Get the hell out of the road asshole,” screamed the man as he drove away.

Mark pulled the headphones off as he watched the car. It belonged to a guy down the road. A reckless grin crossed Mark’s face. He would take care of that later. Mark looked at the house as he walked up to the front door.

It had never felt like his house – like a home. The immaculate lawn, trees and bushes trimmed, even the rocks looked like they had been categorized and placed carefully. If there were a 10th circle in Dante’s Inferno, Mark thought, it would have been suburbia.

***

A store-bought scent filled the air as he walked in through the front door. Today’s candle gave off the scent of baked apple pie. Mark scoffed. The oven was for display only. A noise from one of the back rooms caught Mark’s attention.

“Shit,” he mumbled as he put the headphones back on and held his backpack tighter. “They’re back early.”

Mark hurried to the stairs. The parental units made it to the bottom of the stairs just as he reached the top. He moved quickly down the hall while his hands drummed a heavy musical beat against the backpack. The music wasn’t loud enough to drown out the sound of feet stomping up the stairs. Mark knew the telltale sound of disgust and loathing in their heavy footfalls. He made it to his door before the headphones were yanked off his head from behind.

“I said turn that sorry excuse for music off when you are in this house,” said Steve. It was Dad only if there was company.

“Sorry,” Mark said through clenched teeth, “I have algebra and was getting in the mood to do pointless bullshit.”

***

Beth, Mother when occasion called, pasted a faux smile on as she stood next to Steve.

“We came home early because there is something we need to talk to you about.” Beth’s lips and eyes twitched as she exchanged one counterfeit grin for another.

Mark turned his music up as he replied. “I’ll work on my algebra for an hour and then come downstairs. Something smells great down there.”

Beth’s face scrunched with confusion. Steve looked suspicious. Mark stepped into his room as he continued. “Smells like pie or something. I love it when you bake.”

He closed the door, but Steve opened it just enough for his face to show and glared at Mark. “You have 45 minutes or we will come up here.”

***

Mark closed the door again, opened his backpack and pulled out his bong. The water sloshed against the sides as he prepared the water pipe. The meeting with the parental units just begged for a large hit. He was tired of the lies.

Once the bong was ready, he put flame to the bud. Mark sucked deep and watched as the clear chamber filled with smoke. He dropped the lighter onto his bed and was about to open the window when he decided it was time. The bed creaked as Mark sat down and removed his finger from the carb. The chamber quickly emptied of the white smoke as Mark pulled it all into his lungs. He held it in until his head started to swim.

“It’s time for the truth,” Mark said. His words were carried away on a cloud as he tried to decide what to do. Thoughts bounced around in his head like a pinball machine. Most of those thoughts shied away when he tried to reach for them. Only one remained clear. Truth.

He ground more bud and filled the bowl. Truth was bold and brutal. Mark knew brutal, now it was time for bold. He grabbed his lighter and opened the door. Steve and Beth were downstairs talking.

“… a bad kid.”

“Adoption was a stupid idea…”

“… time to get rid of him.”

He almost laughed. This was going to be great. Mark started noisily down the steps. The talking below stopped, but he’d give them something to talk about. Mark reached the bottom of the stairs and walked into the kitchen. Beth and Steve looked shocked. Mark lit the bud and inhaled a full load. Smoke erupted from his lips as he spoke.

“Now that is how you bake.”

“You sorry piece of shit,” Steve screamed.

Beth had no more bogus smiles. “We give you everything and this is how you repay us? Well, now it’s time for the truth. We adopted you when you were little, thinking we could raise you to be like us. But it wasn’t possible. You’re a bad kid.” Beth’s voice was full of relief.

Steve jammed a finger at Mark’s chest. “We were going to wait until you turned eighteen, but neither of us can stand you anymore. Get out!”

“Since it’s time for the truth,” Mark said coldly, “it’s my turn to share.”

“What more could you share? You’re just a rotten kid.”

A sinister smile crawled across Mark’s face and a shadow fell over his eyes. “That is my lie. The lie. You have no idea how bad I am. Let me show you my truth.”

Mark swung the bong and broke it against Steve’s head. Shards of glass opened his forehead with a splash of blood and gouged out one of his eyes. Mark pulled a knife out of his pocket and slashed the blade across Steve’s neck. Beth was about to scream when Mark jumped up and grabbed her throat with a crushing grip. He turned and watched Steve’s movements go from strong and spastic to weak and sporadic. It didn’t take long for the blood to stop flowing and his twitching extremities to relax.

Mark looked back at Beth, shoved her back against the fridge, and slowly stuck the blade underneath her sternum. He breathed quietly and looked deep into her eyes as she kicked and convulsed.

“Is it better to live with a lie, or die with the truth?”

Beth’s reply wouldn’t matter. Mark was free because he already knew the answer.

~ Zack Kullis

© Copyright 2015 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.

Everyone’s A Victim

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

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

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

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

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

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

She fell silent.

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

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

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

She stared at him in silence.

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

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

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

Still no reaction came from the bound woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Silly Bunny

Bunnies

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows you start with the eyes…

~ Nina D’Arcangela

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

Dark Monstrosities

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

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

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

No light anywhere. The city is black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My shadow self smiles…

~ Blaze McRob

© Copyright 2015 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.

Annual Hunt

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

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

“What time is it?”

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

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

Ed nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Both men nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” John whispered.

“There’s blood on the road.”

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

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

“Is it a trail?” John asked.

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

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

Ed nodded.

“Why would it…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Somewhere in the distance, the werewolf howled.

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

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

“What about it?”

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

Another howl pierced the night.

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

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

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

John sighed, nodded and pushed off from the tree.

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

The sounds were close by.

John looked over at Ed, clearly unnerved.

“What the hell is that?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” Ed replied.

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

It was lying on its side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It couldn’t change.”

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

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

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

Ed shrugged. “It’s possible.”

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

“Yes I did.”

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

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

“Oh my god…” John trailed off.

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

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

The Orchard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It began when I was folding the laundry with Catherine.

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

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

“Returning where?”

“To your home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elizabeth?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.

Chance

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

“Go away, Chance.”

Chance nudged her again, harder this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chance? Come on, it’s okay.”

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

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

“Chance? Did you find something out there?”

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

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

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

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

“Where’d you find her, Chance?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.

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