“Alright, Detective Dickhole, what do you have for me today?”
Pathologist Leonard Kessler’s voice echoed through the cold room. The acoustically prone surfaces usually kept his spoken words to a minimum, but he never missed the opportunity to insult his big brother.
Darren Kessler shivered, folding his arms tighter against his chest. “I still don’t know how you work in here.”
“You get used to it, just like Dad’s cooking.”
“I’m still trying to digest his meatloaf from last Easter and still trying to get warm in here.”
“The trick is to stop tying, just accept it.” Leonard said.
“Screw that. I’ll wait for evolution to give us internal thermostats. Anyway, I pulled some strings to get this case for you,” Darren said, smiling. “I know you like working on the weird ones.”
“Lay it on me!”
“The body,” Darren said, reading from the file folder and pointing to the freshly wheeled-in corpse, “is a 36-year-old Caucasian male, 182 lbs., 5’ 11”. Dr. Patrick Mahoney, a Marine Biologist. He was found dead in his laboratory nearly seven hours ago. The man’s financial backer, Charles Grawner, discovered the body after Mahoney was a no-show for a status meeting. No immediate indications of foul play—the lab was locked from the inside. Mahoney had just returned from a research jaunt through the Pacific.
“Don’t think so. Too messy and bizarre for self-inflicted damage—wait till you see him; strange. Here’s a copy of the file.”
Darren handed him a file folder of crime scene photos and documents. “Run a full report on him. Call me when you have something.”
“Yes, Sir.” Leonard tossed his brother a mock salute.
Detective Kessler sipped the runny tar his co-workers called coffee while sifting through evidence bags in his office. One, marked Bodily Possessions, held a cell phone, ID badge, wallet, and a small portable computer drive. He plugged the USB drive into his laptop while mumbling to himself, “Please, no kiddie porn.”
Sorting through the extensive list of folders and files, he scanned the recent documents. Heading the list was a mpeg video titled ‘URGENT – Watch NOW’. Darren double-clicked the file.
An unshaven man with ruffled hair stared at the camera. His eyes, clearly visible behind small, wire-framed glasses, were red, puffy, and underlined by dark baggage.
As the video began, the man rubbed his face and took a deep breath.
“April 14th, 2013. 10:39pm. My name is Dr. Patrick T. Mahoney. I’m a marine biologist working under an unlisted grant from Grawner Bio-Chem, Inc. through a NOAA privatized research arm, Marine Research Discoveries Division.
“We were researching the waters above the Mariana Trench, dropping probes when a Mitsukurina owstoni (Goblin shark) floated to the surface, deceased. To learn more about the pink Mitsukurina and what happened to it, we hauled it aboard for analysis.
“The shark’s characteristic protruding jaw was dislodged and broken. This particular specimen had abnormally long teeth which was quite odd and seemed the most likely the cause of death… but we were wrong.
“Upon dissection, I discovered foreign tissue residing inside the cartilaginous skull. This tissue was in fact an endoparasitoic creature—still thriving after its host’s death. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
“Two crew members of Māori descent had been very uneasy with its presence on the boat. They referred to it as ‘Wheke Pōtae’, which roughly translates to ‘Head Squid’. An old fable passed down from their tribe elders claimed it was crafty and evil, not to be trifled with or risk bringing death upon the whole village.”
The doctor paused, his eyes shifting back and forth restlessly as if ratcheting his brain toward a decision. After a loud exhale, Dr. Mahoney returned his gaze to the screen and new distress had carved deeper lines on his face, advancing his perceived age.
“Do not misunderstand what you are watching here,” he said. “At this moment, I am of sound mind and body. My actions are taken willingly. What I am doing, and what you are about to witness, is in the name of science. Please learn from this, I beg you; heed my warnings and study my experience, or it will all be in vain.
“In the days between docking and now, I’ve studied the specimen to learn more about the endoparasite. You can find all the documentation on the data drive with this video, including a hypothetical case study of the organism’s method of reproduction.
“But now… theories be damned, I am the case study.”
Raising a hand, Dr. Mahoney showed a puncture wound on the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. Swelling had ballooned the curve of his hand from a concave pink to a greenish convex mound with blue lightning-veins racing down his arm and out of the camera frame.
“It must sense other living beings’ proximity through electrical impulse sensitivity. It projected a reproduction-capable proboscis and injected an embryo of sorts under the dermal layer. I clearly underestimated its capabilities.”
The doctor exhaled a deep, quivering breath.
“I felt it… crawling up my arm, along my jugular, and squeezing into my skull. That was 7 hours ago. Since then, I’ve experienced heightened sensitivity in my jaw and teeth and increased cranial pressure.
“The organism stimulates unprecedented growth in the host’s teeth. After close inspection, I’ve identified a siphon appendage wrapped around the nerve within each tooth’s inner cavity, which extends to a tiny hole in the outer enamel. I believe this is used to increase pressure within the skull in an attempt to replicate the pressure levels of its native ocean environment. The teeth must gr—”
The biologist winced, crying out and clutching his head.
“I think it’s feeding.”
He reached up and stopped the recording.
The screen flashed. The Doctor was now very pale with dried blood around his nostrils and ears. His lips, suffering multiple points of laceration, were split and pushed back in a skull’s grin. The lower jaw jutted out and down in what would have been an open-mouthed posture, but the view was obstructed by teeth—an enamel cage overlapping from a massive under-bite. His harsh breaths hissed through the dental wall, whistling and slapping against the continual production of crimson-tinged drool.
Dr. Mahoney held up a small dry-erase board with a poorly scrawled message stating, “I can no longer speak clearly. I cannot move my jaw, the pain is incredible.”
He lowered the board and wrote a new message. His body was quivering and tears flowed freely as he held up message after message.
“With growing teeth and chewed brain, I’m not sure…
“…how much time I have left, how much more I can take….
“…I feel teeth growing, forcing jaw open further.”
Before displaying the next part of his message he jolted forward and howled as if an invisible hammer struck him in the back of the head. The tortured sound was muffled behind his overlapping wall of teeth. It barely sounded human. He recovered in his chair but his breathing quickened.
Between the man’s hissing breaths, the detective could hear the multifaceted squeal of enamel pushing against enamel.
Mahoney finished the written words and held up the board.
“my experiences and spec It’s moving around, eating again.”
Blood dribbled from his nose. He started writing more but never finished. His rasped, violent breathing stopped cold. The doctor’s eyes widened. He stared into the camera with unwavering intensity for so long that Detective Kessler wondered if the video had paused. Then, the man’s subtle tremors, tight convulsions of the head, became noticeable.
Dr. Mahoney screamed again, but this time he didn’t stop.
Kessler lowered the hand covering his mouth and leaned closer to the computer screen, riveted to the horror unfolding before him.
The doctor pounded fists against his temples and clawed at his scalp. It looked as if he’d gone insane—sanity eroding right in front of the camera.
The man’s right eye twitched and turned in the socket, completely unhinged from the synchrony with his other, which held firm in its gaze at the camera. A moment later, it disappeared, sucked back into his skull with a splash of blood and aqueous fluid, leaving a grotesque void behind.
Despite the screaming, Kessler heard the loud pop of Dr. Mahoney’s jaw finally giving way under the strain. It flopped open, swaying like a bear trap with a broken spring. A pink cocktail of blood and cranial fluids poured from his nose. Choking, the doctor’s shrieks drowned in a long, agonizing gurgle before he collapsed onto the desk.
Darren sat as still as the dead man on the video.
In his eleven years as a homicide detective, he’d never seen anything like that before. He fumbled for his cell phone and dialed.
“Leo, you’re not gonna believe what I just saw.”
“This thing is amazing,” Leonard said, ignoring his brother. “It completely devoured Dr. Mahoney’s brain and grew large enough to crack open the skull.”
“Yeah, it kills the host… not very good for longevity, huh.”
“Darren, I think it’s still alive.”
“Shit! Get away from it, right now!” the detective said, jumping out of his chair. “I’m coming down. Don’t do anything ‘till I get there.”
The detective burst into the autopsy room, shouting. “I told you to get back, goddamn it.”
Leonard sat on a stool with his back to the door, leaning over Mahoney’s body.
Darren rushed over. “It’s not safe, Leo. I told you to—”
His brother was shaking. Still holding the phone in his right hand, he cradled the left.
“It happened so fast.” Leonard said in a hollow, reedy voice.
Darren saw the tell-tale wound on his brother’s wrist and knew exactly what had happened. He pulled Leonard away from the table, ranting, “No. No. No.”
Leonard flexed his fingers and winced. “Man it hurts. I felt the toxin spreading all the way up to my head.”
“Fuck!” Darren paced, pausing occasionally to kick over a tray of tools or punch the cooler doors. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”
“Hey, we should call 911 or poison control.”
“It’s not a toxin.” Darren scolded him. “There’s no antidote… no way to survive, only the suffering of an agonizing death.”
Darren drew his Glock 17 and fired five rounds into the occupied cavity of Dr. Mahoney’s skull.
“Whoa, we still could’ve—”
Darren pivoted to point the gun at his brother.
“What the fuck, man?”
“It’s the only way to save you.” He said with tears dripping from his chin.
“I love you, Leo.”
“Wait, Darren! Don’t…”
Responding to the initial report of gunfire in the morgue, the uniformed officers were halfway down the hall when the last two shots rang out.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.
Projected light flickered through the dark; each burst momentarily painting the shadowed surfaces with brilliant light as if a welder was hard at work in the corner. A muscular but overweight man lounged in a reclining chair at the center of the small living room. His callused hands held the remote control and a cold drink with equal care. He had cast aside his dusty work boots and was watching the flat screen between his grimy sock-covered feet.
After taking another swig of beer, he smiled and repeated a line in sync with the movie, copying the actor’s sing-song sarcasm, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
Jeremy Kolski was happy with his life. It was simple, but that’s the way he wanted it—steady contractor’s job, detached house, beautiful wife and daughter, and big ass TV. He’d worked hard to put all the pieces in place, and he believed a strict routine would keep the status-quo-machine running. Facing the unexpected at work was inevitable but at home, things were always in order. He even ate the same meals everyday: medium-rare steak and eggs in the morning, brown-bagged sandwich for lunch, and thick oatmeal with a side of bacon for dinner. His wife Mora had it all down to a science, like that baby bear’s porridge—just right.
A harsh light flooded Mora’s face. She stared blindly into the glow, momentarily unaware of the blood-red mask it gave her, like some masquerade villain from the mind of Edgar Allen Poe. She stared out the port-hole window above the sink, pausing with pan and soap sponge dripping in her hands. In the small, dimly lit kitchen her vibrant sundress looked drab and unflattering despite the youthfulness of her petite frame. Even the golden tresses of her wavy hair seemed flat and frayed, but a quaint smile played at the edges of her lips, defying the depressive scene the room’s lighting had imbued.
The pulsing red beams faded as a police cruiser rolled past their house in the pursuit of evildoers elsewhere. Mora returned to washing the dishes and a thought—appropriate to the moment—found its way to her lips. She recited the line to herself, “For the uninvited, there is much to fear.”
Her life was forged in routine. Her father and his military background made an impression on her family, and living with her husband was much the same. She always found comfort in knowing what needed to be done and what each day would bring. She spent her time tending to Jeremy, raising little Samantha, and keeping up with the household chores. Change used to frighten Mora, but over the last few days the thought of it had begun to look different to her. In small doses, change could be manageable, and over time, big strides could be made through cumulative steps. With that in mind tonight, she didn’t rush to clean up the dinner table.
Jeremy was entranced by the screen. He only tore his eyes away long enough to pour another shot of the amber liquid and toss it back. This time, however, he was forced to look down as sharp pain stabbed through his abdomen causing him to flinch and dribble whiskey onto his twill work shirt.
A few months ago when the discomfort started, Jeremy increased his drinking from occasional to maintenance. Concerned coworkers had asked him about the pain and he’d always replied, “It might be stomach ulcers or goddam colon cancer, who knows.” When he told this to a buddy of his with such indifference, the man’s lunch nearly fell out of his mouth. The inquiry always ended with Jeremy adding, “Na, I ain’t going to see a Doctor. I don’t trust them. They ask too many damn questions and then diagnose you with what’s best to fatten their own wallets. In my house, we’re better off taking the pain and fixing our own problems.”
“Goddamnit,” Jeremy cursed, wiping at the drops that seeped down into the material. Then, setting his eyes back on the TV, he shouted sidelong toward the kitchen. “Mora, get your wide ass moving and bring me a wet rag… and another beer from the garage, but make it quick, he’s about to walk barefoot across the broken glass.” Jeremy poured another shot as he mumbled to himself, “best part of the movie if you ask me.”
The man’s chair was flanked by tray tables burdened with empty cans of Yuengling and a half drunk fifth of Johnnie Walker. He sucked the alcohol from his fingers, unconcerned with the dust caked to his cuticles and knuckle creases. It was a common residual from his job, either by hanging drywall or mixing concrete for sidewalks or patios.
Jeremy cleared his throat and poured another shot.
A diminutive woman entered the room with the requested items. Keeping her head down, she placed them carefully on the nearest tray table, scooped up the empty beer cans and backed away. Passing under the lights in the dining room, Jeremy caught sight of the shine under her eyes. A purple butterfly bruise had spread its wings across the bridge of her newly curved nose. He nodded, agreeing with his punishment for her recent change in the routine. But he stopped abruptly after noticing a dirty bowl still sitting on the supper table.
“Hey, Woman! Better finish cleaning up supper before the movie’s over.”
Mora tossed the empty cans into a recycling bin that sat in the garage amid all his tools and leftover work supplies. She stood there for a moment, calming herself and pulling in deep breaths with her sore eyes closed. Tears squeezed free and trailed down her cheeks, their wet tracks leaving a brighter sheen on her bruise that was looking more and more like some kind of hero mask.
She didn’t feel very super right now. In fact, she hadn’t been in this much pain since falling out of a tree at the age of seven. Her father was helping her learn how to climb. Eventually, he gave up trying to mold her into the son he never received, but not before she broke both wrists when an upper bough gave way. The fractures healed, but the pain from his disappointment would not.
Now, trying to center herself in the garage, she was suffering from not only a bruised face and a broken nose, but also the mental anguish of waking up to a six-year nightmare.
She was locked into a routine, again—chained down by psychological assaults and kept productive with physical punishment. How could she have been blind to it for all these years? ‘Because Jeremy wasn’t always like this, it… progressed,’ she realized. Any change, no matter how appalling, if introduced gradually enough, could be accepted with unanimous approval—just ask Austria.
It took undying love and a cold knuckle connection to her nose for Mora to see the change. Jeremy raised his hand to their daughter for the first time and Mora’s intervention—her deviation from the routine—cost her a fractured face.
His wife wasn’t doing her job. It’s been ten minutes and she still didn’t come back to clean up that bowl. It was his oatmeal dish from dinner and the longer it sits the harder that shit gets.
Jeremy grunted and cursed as another slash of pain dug into his guts, “Ah, fuck!” Hunched over, he clutched at his stomach and waited for the agony to back off. It was getting worse by the hour, now. The wave passed, but the constant ache went up another notch.
He stood up, kicked over one of the tray tables, and sucked down another shot or two straight out of the bottle. It was time his woman learned that she needed to finish her chores and follow the rules.
Mora, bolstered by the need to protect her daughter, was fed up with the routine. Change was inevitable and she welcomed it.
Beads of sweat formed on Jeremy’s forehead as he moved toward the dinning room. His legs felt weak. Each footstep was torture, as if they were pulling the ignition lever on a blowtorch inside his gullet—frying his organs and searing nerves. After four paces, breathing heavy and grinding his teeth, Jeremy reached the table. He picked up the bowl and even that felt heavy. Staggering another few steps, Jeremy crossed into the kitchen and fell to his knees. The bowl slipped from his fingers and hit the floor with a loud thunk.
A pair of white sneakers stepped into Jeremy’s view. His eyes labored their way up Mora’s body to meet her glare.
She stood over her husband, pouring hatred down upon him. “You don’t look so good, dear. You sure I shouldn’t call a doctor?”
Tears welled in his eyes and he grunted out the word, “Call!”
“But you told me not to, they ask too many questions and I better not go against your will, right?” She waited for a reply but he was busy moaning. Then she noticed the bowl next to him on the floor.
“Oh, look at that. I must’ve left a dirty dish on the table.” Mora picked it up and knocked it against the floor. It made a solid cluck.
“You do love your oatmeal thick, huh? I’ve added a new ingredient to make it extra thick for you. The cement dust from the garage takes a while to harden, but I usually get all the dishes cleaned up by then. I only used a little at first, but the last couple nights have called for a hefty helping.”
A siren screamed past the kitchen window, bathing Mora in vibrant red light.
Jeremy managed to rasp two more words before passing out. “You… bitch!”
Mora smiled. “Yes, payback usually is. But I took the pain and now, I fixed the problem.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
The flames are hypnotic.
Fingers of light play against the night in contrast like a calico kitten beneath a massive ball of black nylon thread. Its harmonious colors of red, yellow, and orange blend and battle in a dance that never ceases to lose its novelty.
Fire is damn fascinating—the breath of dragons and gods and other mythical beings bent on destruction. Yet, its beauty is beyond compare. One could lose his soul gazing into its fiery maw. It’s not predictable and monotonous like most would think after a cursory glance; it’s more fluid, impulsive, opportunistic. After all, it is a living thing. It breathes. It consumes. And, at times, it even appears to fear and hate.
The heat warms my prickled skin with the friendly itch of a wool blanket. Despite the outer comfort, it chills my heart—my leadened chest now burdened with an irreparable chunk of ice. I’m not here for recreation. My childhood memories of joyful campfires with toasted treats, spooky yarns, and hickory-smoke aromas are irrelevant tonight and I struggle to keep them at bay. The nature of flames may be intriguing, but I hate this fire.
I hate it and it knows.
When my glare falters and my focus succumbs to the rhythm, easing into a hypnotized gaze, the burning creature stokes my hatred anew with a taunting flare streaked in blue or green like it’s flipping me off.
I try to rationalize the event—must’ve scorched its way to a copper pipe or pocket of propane—but, I’m not buying what I’m shoveling. It knows it’s in control now, too strong to quash. Its hungry fingers claw up past the second floor windows and reach for more.
Those were the kids’ rooms.
When we moved from D.C. to West Chester fifteen months ago, we got more space for less cost and the twins gained their own rooms for the first time. Their playful argument over the larger room nearly killed me… literally. I was choking on inhaled chunks of soft pretzel from an ill-timed bout of laughter. Karen, my loving wife, was too busy to help. She was leaning sideways in her own giggling fit while struggling to keep Caleb and Rachel within the eye of her phone’s camera.
They fired up the competition with a spirited debate. Their deductive reasoning and good-natured mudslinging is what almost got me to perform the self-Heimlich Maneuver and what, ironically, aided in coughing my airways to freedom.
With the debate too close to call a clear winner, they took the next logical step—who could eat their lunch the fastest.
Rachel was chewing her last bite of sandwich when she noticed her mother’s phone held in their direction. “Recording this? Oh, now you’ve done it,” she crowed spitting food particles.
“I don’t know about you, Sis, but I’m still hungry,” Caleb said, grinning at their mother. Rachel matched his smile and added, “Yes, me too and Mom looks awfully tasty!”
They both lunged at Karen, grappled for the phone and pretending to devour her while I moved our drinks to safety.
After catching his breath, Caleb realized the dispute was still unresolved. He stole two tomato slices from his mother’s hoagie and smashed them against the nearest window; the last slice clinging would earn its designated owner the bigger room.
That very window was now engulfed in flames. They’ll never have the chance to play in those rooms again. The house was beyond rescue and repair. Karen’s phone and that memory’s video were now lost forever, along with the rest of our belongings.
I shouldn’t have left without grabbing a few things, but the damned flames spread so fast. With a gasoline drenched carpet, I guess the sprinkling of whiskey was overkill—not to mention a waste of good drinking.
I could barely hear the roar of the blaze over the pulsing blood in my head, droning on like a swarm of salacious cicadas.
The flames taunt, trying to drive me mad with guilt, but I had no choice. Fire was the only recourse—it all had to burn.
They had to burn.
My sweet children, my true love, may they rest in peace and walk through Heaven’s Gates together. Please God take them in!
Reflecting the fire’s light, tears tumble from my eyes like orange diamonds, melting as they slide down my warmed skin.
They didn’t deserve this. This fate of fire was not meant for them. They were so innocent and pure… until tainted by the infection.
Who would’ve guessed that it would originate from something in plain sight, something long thought benign? It didn’t come from an overzealous lab with lax security measures. It was from a fuckin’ museum in eastern Pennsylvania!
God, this house… we moved right next to ground zero.
Some poor sap accidentally broke open a pickled punk or some other fermented mutation at the Mütter Museum a few miles from here. He sliced open his hand trying to clean up the mess and contracted the wrong bacteria.
It spread from person to person faster than this goddamn fire. We didn’t have time to doubt or panic before it struck our community.
One of those things barged onto the twins’ school bus when the driver opened the doors at a railroad crossing. Their terror must have been unbearable as they watched the rancid thing chew its way toward them—the kids never got the emergency door open, they were trapped morsels like sardines in a can.
My children, corrupt and infested, made their way home. By the time I arrived they had torn their mother into three gnawed-open pieces. The twins attacked and Karen’s parts slunk their way toward me with the same vicious intent. I will never forget that sight or what I did next.
Their warm, healthy flesh had putrefied. As I pushed and pulled them away from my body, their skin slid from the meat of their limbs, further amplifying the eye-watering smell of roses and rotting roadkill.
Were they still in there or were they empty corpses? I couldn’t take the chance that they were suffering. I ripped my ornamental sword off the wall, finalized their death march, and set a cleansing fire to work.
Sirens wail in the distance now, and I finally notice the chaos around me. Other homes were in flames too. Cars were left abandoned in the middle of the street. Gun shots echo in the distance and screams stop short every few minutes.
It won’t be long now.
My time is dwindling.
I probably won’t see my loved ones in the hereafter—the crimes of taking their… lives may have stolen that right from me.
Guilt weighs heavily on my will to live, like the crushing stones of a Salem death sentence.
The night is filled with fire. Such a beautiful creature it is, fluttering plumage as it climbs higher and higher.
The flames are hypnotic aren’t they?
One could certainly lose his soul staring at them too long…
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Logan maneuvered the Wii controllers in unison, swinging his arms like a seasoned hockey player. The boy’s passion was obvious — rivaling that of the gladiators his game was designed around despite the disparity of size in his preteen frame.
The digital puck soared past a sprawling goaltender and into the net.
Conner, Logan’s competitor, exhibited his own fervor as he chewed out the faux net minder. “What was that? Wake up and face the shooter. Stupid auto-goalie.” Conner was only a few weeks older than Logan, but already had sprouted seven more inches. He thought the added height would leverage him a scoring advantage in their rivalry, but his new friend proved to be resilient.
The boys met a couple of months ago when Conner moved into the neighborhood and over the summer they developed a healthy rivalry. Hockey quickly became their favorite battleground. They logged many afternoon hours carving digital ice, but there was more at stake this time. It was their final match-up before starting the 5th grade tomorrow with different homerooms.
Logan danced around the coffee table, punching the air like Rocky in training to celebrating his miraculous two-goal comeback to tie the game in the waning seconds.
“I hate it when you use the green Whalers jerseys.” Conner said, grumbling while he scratched at the bandage high on his arm.
“I know,” Logan said through a joker’s grin. “Green for good luck. Now, they’re gonna help me win this thing in overtime.”
Movement drew Logan’s eye to the bandage. “Uh, dude. You might want to stop scratching that. You’re making it bleed.”
Conner tugged his shirt sleeve down to hide the area. “That? Oh, I scraped it open on a nail head. My dad’s fixing the cellar steps.”
The boy’s eyes bulged suddenly. “What time is it?”
Glancing up at the wall clock, Logan answered. “Almost 4:40. Why?”
“Damn it! I gotta go.”
“I have to be home before five or my dad’s going to beat my ass raw.”
“But it’s overtime of game 7. You can’t leave now.”
“I really have to go.”
Conner shoved some items into his duffel bag and sprinted out the front door.
Logan threw his controller and flopped onto the couch. “Shit.”
The next day Conner was a no-show at the bus stop. Logan looked for him all morning — peering out the bus windows, searching the halls between classes, staring at the slotted windows in the classroom doors — but his friend remained unseen. He was beginning to worry about why Conner might have missed the first day of school, when, from the cafeteria line, Logan spotted him sitting alone at the back table.
“You make it home in time yesterday?” Logan asked, placing his tray across from the lone dinner.
“Huh?” Conner said, visibly shaken from deep thought. “Oh. Yeah.” Then he returned to biting his cuticles and plowing the mashed potatoes from side to side with halfhearted fork movements.
Logan chewed on a dry hunk of meatloaf and eyed his friend. He didn’t look well.
Conner’s eyes were shadowed and heavy. His complexion was more pale than usual, earning him another notch toward the color of coconut Popsicle like the ones they used to get from the ice cream truck on Friday afternoons. Which he skipped on the last few times. Logan realized. And look, now he’s not eating his lunch.
Conner shrugged and Logan glimpsed the edge of a new bandage just below his shirt collar.
“What’s that one from,” Logan asked pointing to the gauze dressing, “another nail head?”
“It’s nothing,” Conner replied in a distant tone. But, like a sudden May breeze, he warmed to the conversation. A light flickered to life in his eyes, chasing away the darkness of his frown. “Hey, you want to come over and replay Game 7?”
“Is it okay with your Dad?”
“He won’t be home till later.”
“Yeah. I feel bad about cutting out on you yesterday. We need to finish that game.” Conner smiled. “I’m gonna hit my locker before class, so I’ll catch you after school, okay?”
Logan hesitated. “Yeah, sure, but aren’t you going to eat lunch?”
“What, and risk toxic mutation? I’ll hold out for something better.”
Conner dumped the tray into the nearest trash receptacle and walked out of the cafeteria.
A few hours later the boys were immersed in their championship game and amid the chaos of crosschecks and slapshots, taunts and complaints, they did not hear Mr. O’Barr return early from work, nor his calls for Conner’s attention.
The TV suddenly went dark. Conner’s father, an imposing figure, stood before them with the plug dangling from his fist.
“You’re not allowed to have guests over while I’m gone.” He said.
Conner’s complexion moved up another notch. “Dad. I’m… I’m sorry, we just wanted to finish our game from yesterday.”
The man’s frown drooped further with nostrils flaring above his thick mustache. “Sorry doesn’t unbreak the rules. Your play time is over. Go wash up and we’ll discuss this over dinner.”
“Get your ass up there ‘fore I throw your goddamn Wii in the trash,” his father said, pointing up the steps. “And you better come down ready to eat this time. I’m not going to serve another uneaten meal in this house.”
Conner jumped to his feet and scrambled up the stairs.
Logan watched the confrontation from eyes wide with fear. He didn’t know what to do. Would Mr. O’Barr turn on him as well? Should he just leave? Was Conner safe? That was it. Safety. It all made sense now. His behavior. His lack of appetite. The nail-biting. The bandages and scars. Conner was being abused!
Mr. O’Barr rummaged around the living room, cleaning up the video games and controllers.
Logan was close enough to hear the man’s teeth grind as he picked them up.
“I swear to God, I’m…” The man stopped, took a deep breath, and faced Logan. “It’s time for you to go home.”
He pulled Logan to his feet, shoved the boy’s school bag into his arms, and promptly escorted him out of the house. The door slammed shut before Logan could turn around.
What should I do? He thought, hesitating on the stoop. Logan stepped down and started toward the curb when the muffled sounds of broken glass made up his mind for him.
He dug out his for-emergencies-only cell phone and dialed.
Ten minutes later Logan was back on the stoop, but this time he wasn’t alone. A black man dressed all in blue stood next to him. Logan straightened and puffed out his chest. He felt a tingling surge of power run through him at the thought of justice being served to help his friend.
The officer rang the doorbell then cupped his hands around his eyes to peer into the narrow windows along the door frame. After a moment he reached up to knock but the door vanished beneath his knuckles.
“Mr. O’Barr, I’m Officer Emery and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Conner’s father glared down at Logan then stepped aside to let them in. They followed him down the hall and into the kitchen. Officer Emery surveyed each room along the way. “How many people are present in the home, Sir?”
“Just me and my son, Conner.” Mr. O’Barr picked up a hand towel and started drying dishes. “Can you tell me what this is about?”
“In due time. Where is your son now?”
“Upstairs, washing up for dinner. Why?”
The officer’s eyes paused on shards of broken glass near the man’s feet. “Sir, what can you tell me about your son’s bandages?”
Mr. O’Barr stopped. His hands froze mid-circle in drying a dinner plate.
“Conner told me they were from skateboarding or street hockey or something like that,” he said, splaying his hands.
“He doesn’t like skateboarding!” Logan said, blurting out the words with his pent-up emotion.
“Look, Officer, I work a lot. It’s hard enough scrounging paycheck to paycheck each month, but to keep track of every little thing he likes or dislikes is—”
“Hobbies are one thing Sir, but injuries are your responsibility as a parent. Do you know the health of your child? What’s the story with the glass at your feet?”
“I knocked over my tumblers before you arrived. And, I don’t like your tone, Officer Emery.” Conner’s dad thrust a finger at the cop. “I raise that boy the best I can and you can’t—”
“Sir, I’m going to be frank. There are allegations of child abuse against you. Have you caused harm to your son?”
“What? Are you freaking kidding me? No. No, I haven’t.”
“There are witnesses to an increasing frequency of bandaged wounds.”
“He’s an active boy, for Christ’s sake! You’d worry if he didn’t consistently carry a red badge of courage.”
“Sir, the amount of badges have become excessive. Logan’s outcry for Conner’s well being is not the first. His school had alerted us to a potential problem just yesterday. They spoke to Conner and he was very uneasy about the conversation. He wouldn’t even allow the nurse to check his wounds.”
“Hey, I don’t want some incompetent nurse prodding at my son!” Mr. O’Barr snapped. Veins pulsed in his neck as his frustration swelled.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you again. Did you harm the boy?”
“No, goddammit, I’d never hurt him!” The man shouted and the wet plate slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor.
The policeman jerked a hand to the Taser on his belt. “Mr. O’Barr. Stay calm or I will be forced to make you calm down.”
“Whoa.” Conner’s father slowly put his hands in the air. “It was an accident. I’m calm.”
“Good.” Officer Emery said and gestured to the kitchen table. “Sit down.”
The policeman, keeping an eye on Conner’s father, turned to Logan.
“Son, please go upstairs and check on Conner. Ask him to join us here, in the kitchen.”
Logan nodded and ran up the steps.
A moment later he screamed.
The policeman’s instincts kicked in and within seconds he cuffed the father to a chair, shouted for him to stay put, pulled the firearm from his holster, and jolted up the stairs.
The second floor came into view one step at a time. Logan was standing in the hall, staring into the opened bathroom.
“Back away from the door.” Officer Emery said as he reached the top.
Logan complied, but moved with slow, clumsy steps like a sleepwalker, never taking his eyes off his discovery.
Officer Emery heard the sobs of a child and they weren’t from Logan. He moved laterally, with his gun raised, until the bathroom interior was visible. Taking in the scene before him, the office gradually lowered his weapon.
Conner sat on the edge of the tub, arms tucked between his knees. Tears dripped from his down turned face. He was only wearing boxer shorts and his wounds were exposed—the bandages had been removed.
Emery sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of them. They weren’t the kind of injuries he expected. Mr. O’Barr’ is one sick fuck! He thought.
The boy’s body looked like some sadistic kind of checkerboard — angular chunks of flesh were missing at varying intervals, but only in areas that could be concealed by summer attire.
Emery’s stomach clenched and churned. His heart literally ached at the sight.
Conner whimpered. A few drops of blood splashed to the tile floor between his feet and that’s when Emery caught sight of the razor blade.
“Conner,” the officer said, speaking in soft and slow negotiator tones. “We’ll get through this. Please, put down the blade. Don’t give up on us, now.”
Conner lifted his head and looked at the cop for the first time. His face was wrinkled with confusion. “Give up?”
“Stay with us. We care about you. Your father can’t hurt you anymore.”
“My father? He never hurt me.”
“I… I can’t stop cutting.” Conner’s tears flowed in thick rivulets. “It hurts so bad, but I need it. I crave it.”
“We’ll get you some help.” Logan said, peering in from behind the officer.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m addicted. I don’t want real food anymore.”
Conner brought a hand to his mouth. An angular piece of flesh dangled between his fingers. He slurped it up and feverishly chewed the bloody morsel.
“The more I eat, the more I want.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Time has become meaningless. I can sense the rise and fall and the wax and wean of the moon, but I’ve long past the point where it matters. I am a forgotten relic.
They used to watch over me, wary of any changes and They have remained vigilant for many lifetimes—passing down, from father to son, the responsibility of guardian and the knowledge with which to prepare themselves for corrective action should change take place. But of course, time devalues all things. Each generation of vigil grew more indifferent than his predecessor until, eventually, no one came or cared.
The world lived on without me, just as They had intended.
And so, I reside here, in this unmarked grave, for longer than I can recall. My motionless body, a dried husk in the earth, imprisoning my mind, waits for… for what? The end of eternity, I suppose. I don’t have much say in the matter. I’m a slave to time and fate, and fate has firm control of my reigns.
When last was I in control? My final night of freedom?
It was a blood bath.
- – -
I was drunk with power, glutting myself on the life-force of men distracted by war. I cared little about the reasons or results of the conflict. The Polish and Lithuanian’s uprising against Teutonic rule—paltry bickering of feeble men and I was no longer one of them. My strengths and abilities were developing far faster than the world around me. I believed myself nigh invincible.
War raged through the land and I gladly accepted its invitation for indulgence—deaths were expected, blood spilled in abundance, and no one questioned wounds or hunted for missing bodies. I could feed freely without all the games and subterfuge. Yet, despite this reprieve from scrutiny, one still needs to retain a sense of caution.
Temptation got the best of me.
Feeding at the battle’s fringe, I pulled men off their feet and into the shadows along the cliff basin. I drained nine men—six too many—before I was forced to purge. With my vision blurred and my legs weak, I fell to my knees. Consumed blood vacated my body like the violent purge of water through a broken dam. The crimson pool was massive.
A small band of men saw the lake of death oozing from the shadows and were compelled to investigate. I spat the last bit of bloody bile and stood in time to see four Knights arrive. They stopped at the pool’s edge and stared with jaws agape. I wiped my mouth with a long drag of my sleeve and stared back.
It didn’t take long for them to see me as a threat to the religious purity of their world. I witnessed the realization change their expressions from wide-eyed pallor to tight-lipped scowls with hooded eyes.
“Go back to Hell where you belong, Demon.” The lead knight said, pointing his sword at my throat. His silver armor glistened in the vibrant moon light. His dark green eyes stabbed from behind a sharp angular nose. His shield and helmet trappings spoke of nobility.
My senses stabilized. Hunger returned, gurgling and aching in my empty stomach. Overconfident again, I smiled. My sharp, two-inch-long fangs glimmered like their armor. “Hell? What do you self-righteous soldiers know of Hell?”
“Enough to know that you are a blight upon God’s earth and we must see to your destruction.” To his credit the Nobleman held firm, unwavering despite the sight of my razor-blade smile.
“Choose your next actions wisely Nobleman! Your mistakes might come to haunt your descendants.”
“You’ll not pester anyone from the bottom of your grave,” he said and swung two fingers through the air.
I leaned forward, preparing to lunge, when a flurry of flaming arrows pelted my chest. I stumbled back against the cliff wall, batting at the flames.
“Bleed him out and let him burn.” The lead knight looked me in the eyes as he ordered my execution. The others rushed in, swords drawn, and stabbed me repeatedly. I tried to fight back, but without sustenance and my own life-force draining away, it accomplished little. Then the nobleman stepped in and slit my throat.
I crumbled to the ground with my flesh crisping in the flames and my blood soaking into the soil. Consciousness faded from me as I caught his final orders for my disposal.
“Cover the demon in leaches and tar, then bury him in the forest.”
- – -
Many generations later, I lay buried and bored, deep in the Bialowiea forests of Warmia. The blur of time, relentlessly marching, has silenced my inner obsessions over the how’s and should-of’s, the dreams of retribution and plots of revenge. Chalk it up to the erosion of hope, if you like. I prefer to label it as patience.
Tonight the moon is high, full of promise, and it seems I have guests.
Two hikers veer from the path and stop above me.
Through the dense earth between us, I could sense their steps, their weight, and their heartbeats. Muffled voices filter down to my sensitive, dried-out ears. They’re a youthful male and a female couple, talking and laughing. Then a flurry of movement, mostly from the heavier male, before each thumped to the ground. Sitting?
Maybe he set up camp for the night. No, it was a moonlit picnic, the odors of bread, cheese, and grapes… correction, wine, wormed into my sinuses like a wraith through cemetery soil. My empty stomach turned.
They ate and drank amid short bursts of conversation. I could hear the wine in its work to lighten their tongues and heavy their limbs. Their hearts beat faster. Their blood flowed more freely through their veins. It was an agonizing tease, an unnecessary torture before the inevitable return to solitude.
Of course, when the refreshments were gone, their appetites shifted toward each other. Fumbling, chaotic thumps and knocks against the earth soon found rhythm. The percussion of love worked toward a crescendo, accompanied by moans and whispered pleas. My stomach turned again, but a sudden shift drew my full attention.
The air pressure changed. I could feel a greater density like a charge that precedes a lightning strike. Their hearts fell out of sync. Their rhythm slowed, becoming disjointed.
She whispered a question in a voice still overwhelmed by passion.
He answered with action.
Thrusting, he stabbed deep into her, over and over, but not with his member—he used a weapon of a different kind. The woman’s gasps and coughs played to me like a symphony. The sensation of surprise was exquisite.
Her gurgling breaths told of punctured lungs and severed arteries. I could feel his hatred for her, pulsing from his heart in shock waves that tickled my bones and weighed against my chest. He shouted obscenities, punctuating each with another blow from his knife.
“Whore! You had to sleep with him. You tainted your chance at salvation. And now you’ve ruined mine. Damn you! Slut!”
The pungent scent of her blood birthed my hopes anew. My bones quivered in anticipation.
Pumping away more and more of her life-force, her heartbeat slowed to a stop. Her killer flopped back and fell still, whimpering in the night air.
Blood trickled down through the soil. The first drop hit my sternum. With the leaches and tar bindings long withered to dust, the drop absorbed uninhibited. It felt like ice against skin baked in the desert sun, a burning cold that takes your breath away.
More claret drops reached me, soaking into my brittle flesh, and reactivated my cells. The drips grew into steady streams, painting my corpse crimson. Tendons stretched and fused to bone. Muscle fibers rehydrated. Organs swelled and pulsed. My body burned under the fires of rejuvenation—the pain was both unbearable and exhilarating.
I sucked down my first breath and clawed for the surface.
Finally free from my grave, I stood tall, brushing dirt from my shoulders. With a deep breath I took in the night sky—at last, one again with the lunar pull.
The man’s whimpers turned to screams as my eyes found his. He fumbled to his feet and tried to run, but I grabbed his shoulders and lifted him in front of me. Face to face, I took in his dark green eyes pleading from behind a sharp angular nose. I smiled at fate’s ironic sense of humor.
“How’s your family, boy?”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
“Dr. Anton Strah M.D. August 12th, 2011, 8:46 am. Patient #34, Mrs. Johnson, will arrive shortly for her appointment. This will be our 9th session. Mrs. Johnson has shown significant signs of debilitating fear and phobia. She is scared of her future, fearing for her well being in the days to come.”
The man placed his recording device gingerly on a polished end table. He sat in a tall leather chair, his right leg draped over his left at the knees, exposing a few inches of pale, imperfect skin above the sock. His age was starting to show in new colorations across his body, but his lean face still clung to a somewhat youthful complexion and his gray hair projected experience and intelligence rather than an air of depreciation.
Leaning against the right armrest and pursing his lips with effort, the doctor burrowed into his pants pocket for a tobacco pipe and matchbox. He lit the Revyagin and, waving the exhausted matchstick through the air, he sat back with a sigh. His posture eased as he puffed. A few moments later, still staring reflectively at the far wall, he continued speaking to the empty room.
“In paranoia, Mrs. Johnson has closed herself off from the world, keeping communication to an absolute minimum. She has begun to lash out violently at the people around her. Over our few sessions, she’s regressed to more instinctual behaviors. There is much more to unearth here, but current findings and theories are as follows:
“Mrs. Johnson’s fear, along with all previous patients, follows a natural progression that begins with anxiety. This first stage is quite common. Anxiety is a wide-spread occurrence in society. It is one of several emotional manifestations of what I’ve come to call the Fear Index: Anxiety – Fear – Horror – Terror.
“Experienced emotions progress sequentially—one building upon the other. There are many variables that affect the speed of progression along the Index, some examples of which are re occurrence, personality traits, life experiences, and sobriety levels, but the sequence always remains intact.
“In some cases—let’s call upon Mrs. Johnson’s reactions of horror during session 2, for example—it seems the initial emotional reaction is from the top end of the Index, but with close examination the theory still holds. The stages are indeed experienced consecutively, simply at an accelerated pace. After all, one cannot experience horror without anxiety, nor terror without fear. The logic behind the Index becomes clear when each stage is defined.
- Anxiety = Stress caused by minor and/or subliminal worries or problems.
- Fear = Amplified anxiety from unknown dangers, real or imagined.
- Horror = Fear coupled with knowledge; knowing what dangers will or are happening.
- Terror = Horror with understanding, realization of helplessness and lack of control; the danger is imminent and inevitable.
“Physical variances within my patient group seem to have had no affect on the uniformity of their reactions. The noted physical characteristics are as follows: gender, nationality, age, height, weight, and physical deformities/limitations. Unpredictable variances have occurred, however, from psychological characteristics, which are, of course, more difficult to identify and catalog without more extensive analysis. Therefore, I have decided to allocate more time in that area.
“Taking Mrs. Johnson, again, as an example, she has displayed a fascinating speed variance in her Fear Indexian manifestations based on Motherhood. Her own distress yielded more subdued reactions than in the situations which focused on her offspring.
“This variance has also occurred in other patients and their array of relationships, indicating a solid pattern of behavior. Even in documented studies where the direct distress was greater than that on the familial connection, the pattern persisted.”
Dr. Strah fell silent for a moment. Puffs of smoke danced and whirled before his calm blue eyes like ethereal projections of the gears working in his mind.
“It never ceases to amaze me, this contradiction that all humans have in fear and violence. We try like Hell to avoid problems and stress. We run from confrontations and shelter ourselves with paranoia and antisocial tendencies. We scoff at the military. We shake our heads at the news. But we watch. Oh yes, we watch. And they continue to feed us violence and fear, because it’s what we want. It’s what we crave: rubbernecking at car crashes, dangerous sports, bloody horror movies, stunt videos gone wrong, snuff films, war after war after war. It’s clear we can’t live without fear and violence… our lives would lose value and become utterly meaningless.
“Ah, but I’ve run off track. So… today’s session with Mrs. Johnson will pick up where session 8 ended. I anticipate the three days between sessions has served as a period of recuperation for her, and a catalyst for amplifying the direct link to her phobias through reflection.
“I also anticipate that it will take little prodding to send her up the Fear Index. Once at top of the Index, her comprehension will be documented and discussed in the hopes of seeing improvement in her current destructive and rebellious behaviors—the road to acceptance.”
A buzzer cut through the doctor’s thoughts, humming sharply on the phone next to his recorder. With calm slowness, he tapped the embers from his pipe and propped the sculptured briar against an ashtray. Depressing the illuminated button on his phone, he answered the call. “Hello, Edward? Allow me a moment in preparation then please bring her in.”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Dr. Strah, with recorder in hand, walked around the leather chair and back to a massive desk. The path beneath his shiny Oxford shoes changed from carpet to tile with a sudden clacking rhythm. A nearby coat rack supplied him with a white clinical jacket. Depositing the digital recorder on the desktop, he opened the upper-most side drawer and tugged twice on the latex glove box, as if pulling tissues from a dispenser. With sounds of stretching rubber, he pulled on the gloves and laced his fingers for a snug fit. Then, he pocketed a vial of clear liquid and a syringe before closing the drawer.
The double doors behind him opened as Edward wheeled Mrs. Johnson into the room and positioned her at the center of the tiled flooring. He was impeccably dressed and groomed in a manner identical to the doctor; black and white semi-formal attire topped with an earth-toned sweater and lab coat, slicked back hair, short beard, even the rubber gloves. He was the spitting image of a young Dr. Strah, if one could only ignore the thick scars that ran down his cheeks like streaming tears and the vivid oddity of his hetero chromatic eyes—bright blue in his right and vibrant green in his left.
Edward walked around her gurney, locking the wheels and checking the straps. Satisfied, he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and leaned in to offer her a warm smile before going about his work throughout the room.
A bright light kicked on as the doctor stepped over to the gurney. He held up the syringe, filling it with liquid from the vial. “Mrs. Johnson,” he said, leaning close. “It’s good to see you again.” She squeezed her eyes shut. He pumped the hammer on the syringe, shooting a stream of morphine into the air. “Let’s begin, shall we.”
Bringing the needle down in a swift, sure arc he injected himself—eyelids fluttering as the cold tingling rush coursed through his veins. He moved his eyes across the room in a slow sweep of fascination and wonder. Eventually, they settled back on the woman and he smiled in a wide jackal’s grin. “Much better.”
Edward wheeled over a cart brandishing an array of metal tools that shot a band of reflected light across Dr. Strah’s face.
Mrs. Johnson’s quick breaths neared hyperventilating levels. Tears ran down, collecting in the curves of her ears. Her gag only allowing muffled vowels and whimpers.
Selecting a scalpel from the tray, Dr. Strah spoke with a calm passion. “As always, please depress the appropriate button to indicate your emotional level. And remember, this is for posterity, so please… be honest.”
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.