Consigned to Oblivion

The catacomb swallowed him like the throat of a great beast. With kerosene lantern in hand, he crept down long spiral staircases which led deep into the subterranean bowels beneath Hillside Cemetery. Cobwebs clung to his neck and tangled in his hair. He swiped at them with his free hand and shuddered when his fingers brushed against a hairy body. Tiny legs scrambled to escape but it couldn’t move fast enough; he flung the arachnid against the wall. At the bottom of the stairwell, uncovered remnants of the once living slept eternal in their wall crypts. He eyed them as he walked by and wondered how old they might be.

Vastly ancient, he thought. Beyond compare…

A set of piercing eyes appeared in the dark. The lantern revealed a large rat, its fur soaked in filth. It squeaked as it fled his presence and crawled into a crack in the wall.

This place must be crawling with them. I’m probably surrounded. An involuntary shiver shook his body.

The hall led straight as far as the lantern allowed him sight, both walls lined with those laid to rest innumerous centuries ago. He followed its dark stretch with haste, wanting desperately to find the ossuary he’d obsessed over for so long.

He remembered the last thing Horace said before he left. I’m telling you, don’t go down there. That place was forgotten for a reason.

Booker disregarded the warning; it only made his fevered passion burn brighter.

A cold breath of air blew by, ruffling his shirt and swinging his lantern on its handle. He spun on his heels and scanned the dark, heart rattling against his ribs. He took labored breaths and put his hand to his chest.

“Holy shit.” His voice came out weak, stifled, toned down in the ancient stone chamber.

He turned and quickened his steps. The gust of air made him uneasy; he couldn’t fathom where it might have originated and how it reached the depths of isolation he traveled. But he had to continue. So close after years of research, nothing could dissuade him.

He wondered how long it had been since a living being last tread the ground he paced. Difficult to imagine a pre-historic civilization, uncharted and known only to a select few who had extreme enthusiasm about such things. Surprising how they remained absent from art and literature, unclaimed by the scholars of history. But he, Booker Thorn, walked the sacred ground of their forgotten corpses.

An arch stood at the end of the tunnel, behind it, the ossuary he hoped to find.

“I finally found it. It’s real. And here it is right in front of me.”

He made hesitant steps when he heard the scrape of metal against the floor. With no foreknowledge of what the chamber contained, the possibilities both allured and terrified his curious mind. He certainly hadn’t expected movement. But the inconsistent sound of metal dragged against stone told not of treasure and artifacts, but of something possibly much more interesting and rare. Movement indicated life, as impossible as it seemed in the house of death.

He stretched his arm to extend the light by which he could see. It revealed a chain on the floor, but not what it connected to. His eyes followed the links into the ebony shadow that filled the room. The chain moved again, pulled further into the void by an unknown force. The lantern rattled in his hand and he steadied it with effort.

Breath heaved in and out through a raspy throat. Booker listened intently, silencing himself to hear.

Whatever’s in there is alive. But how could that be? How could something live down here for millennia? Did someone beat me to this place?

The breathing quieted and Booker sat still. He waited for the unknown to make a move; he didn’t want to go first.

The chain flew across the chamber with force, scraping the stone blocks on which it rested. The sudden movement sent Booker reeling back. He dropped the lantern and the glass shattered. The light flickered and went out.

Breathing intensified as darkness consumed him. He retrieved a book of matches from his pocket, tore one from the pack and struck it; fire exploded into existence at the tip, lending poor light to the situation. He swallowed hard and crawled along the floor, bringing the flame closer to the coveted chamber.

The chain moved, ran its cold metal over his fingers. He barred his teeth and stifled a cry.

Hot breath descended on his neck, followed by a snort which shot a foul cloud of decay around his head. The contents of his stomach spilled with brutal force.

A strong hand gripped his thigh and lifted him from the floor. He dropped the match, allowing darkness its return. He dangled in the air, trachea closed, unable to scream. No intelligible thought could formulate in his mind—terror decimated reason and ripped primal fear from deep within the psyche.

The unseen hand that held him tightened fingers until bone snapped. Shock spread like fire as he gasped for air involuntarily.

A flare of agony came with a stabbing sensation and ended with the flesh of his leg torn open. Liquid caressed his side, dripped from his head to the floor. The cut ran deep, sliced through fat and muscle, and scraped the broken bone inside.

He heard a crack when the femur was wrenched from his thigh, followed by the wet slap of boneless skin falling against his torso. Eyes opened wide and waves of visceral imagery crashed against his screaming brain.

His twitching body dropped to the floor. He sensed his arm pop from its socket, the flesh torn away, but it felt distant, the pain only a dull throb. His chest hitched in feeble attempts to get air as his ribs snapped one after another.

A sliver of light appeared above, shining down from an opening at the peak of the vaulted chamber.

Light… There’s light…

Skeletal frame extracted, his body sagged into a muddle of human pulp. All thought coalesced. A crunch echoed, crisp and clear. Eyes lolled toward the sound and a glimpse of what occupied the room burned into his final memory.

Long teeth chewed blood soaked bone, shoved into its mouth with thin, curved fingers. Its leathery brown skin pulsed with thick veins and creased in endless folds and wrinkles. Two black discs stared from a misshapen head.

The light dimmed and went out as the opening in the ceiling closed, the underworld of forgotten things again consigned to oblivion.

∼Lee A. Forman

© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Quick Breather

Alright guys, grab a quick breather and take fifteen!

I barely hear my foreman’s voice come through the radio clipped to the left side of my safety vest. Lowering my bulldozer’s blade to the ground, I shut the machine down. Almost immediately, I miss the roar of the engine.

A breeze blows a rising dirt cloud away from the cab as I make way down to the ground and remove my cigarettes. I shake one out of the package into my hand.

Looking up, most of the guys are standing around in a circle. Mike, I believe that’s his name, waves for me to join them but I shake my head ‘no thanks’ and light my cigarette.

I don’t want camaraderie doing this fucking job.

The drag is long but exhaled quickly. I don’t even taste these things anymore. I do it for a sense of normalcy in days that are no longer normal.

As I circle around to the front of the dozer, my fingers gently run along the chipped and worn yellow paint until they reach the blade. After almost twenty years of operating a dozer I used to love the sound of the blade scraping along the ground.

It was a sound of power and production.

Not anymore.

A few meters away, two excavators sit idly beside a freshly dug pit, roughly the size of the foundation for a small house. The overburden sits on the far side of it as a silent witness.

Actually it’s not a pit.

It’s a mass grave for the enormous pile of bodies in front of my dozer.

They are the bodies of the formerly living dead; bodies that were once living people. Despite various stages of decay, I no longer notice the thick stench of death. I toss my cigarette away, no longer wanting it.

To clear my mind, I glance at a large section of land we finished clear cutting yesterday. A thick tree line remains around the site concealing our actual job from the public eye.

Somewhere within the trees a gunshot rings out, followed by cheers; looks like our armed escorts got another one for the pile. My eyes find their way back to the dead, imagining who they were at one time. Limbs of different sizes stick out of the pile like a grotesque form of art.

The small limbs are the ones that get me the most.

If I stare long and hard at them, I can almost make out which ones belong to—

Stop it!

My legs give out. Slumping to the ground with my back against the blade,  I press my face into my palms. I don’t know how much time passes when my radio crackles to life.

Alright, boys, let’s get back to it. Lucas, whenever you’re ready, go ahead and push those fuckers into the pit.

My arm is heavy as I reach up to grasp my mic. “You got it, boss.”

I get to my feet, climb back up to the cab and start the engine. Manipulating the controls, I raise the blade a few inches off the ground before inching the bulldozer forward.

The worst part is the blade making contact with the pile. There’s a slight shudder of resistance before the bulldozer pushes through and bodies start to roll toward the pit like a wave approaching a beach.

I feel a few of the smaller bodies slip underneath the blade, getting stuck bellow it.

Shit.

I’ll have to make another pass.

This isn’t the first pile I’ve had to push into a mass grave.

Nor will it be the last.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

Nemesis

I have been known by many names, I prefer Nemesis. Like all deities, my origin and true purpose have been forgotten, denied and sanctified by folklore. I was the dispenser of Justice before justice became a blindfolded woman in the courts of men. I see into the hidden depths of your soul and make manifest your most despised fears, I deliver what you truly deserve. It is not karma, it is not an eye for an eye, it is pure punishment. I will take both eyes and every other organ as well.

I take pride in my work; the dead squabble at the gates of my kingdom as if vying for entrance to an exclusive club. Only the very top skimming of filth, those responsible for the most extraordinary cruelty may proceed. 
There are many realms of Hell. The common evil doers toss and tumble in pits of flame for eternity, a monotonous suffering fit for the feeble minded. Liars, thieves, adulterers, blasphemers, you will wish you had the balls to really follow your dark urges when you are sentenced to those seething pits of tedious torment. Those pathetic souls are not fit to be in Hell but, of course, the gatekeepers of Heaven will not take them so here they remain: moaning, bitching, squirming; just as they did in life.

Every moment fresh hoards are ushered through the screaming fields where they first witness the horrors they will be subjected to. Row upon row, as far as can be seen, the damned are staked and raked, enduring visions of torture I project upon them.

Among my elite charge are infamous mass murderers, pedophiles, tyrants and politicians, and my favorites, men of the cloth. I have them to thank for the more creative implements of torture at my disposal. I don’t often get my own hands dirty, I have gimps to perform the menial tasks, but sometimes a particular soul will beg for my personal attention.

I have created my world to beautiful perfection. The Infernal Lord respects my artistry and allows me to proceed as I wish. I stroll through the black smoking fields, the rolling hills of ash and debris, piled high with torn limbs, rotting organs, shattered bones. My vulturous familiars flock and feed on the remains, their red eyes glistening like jewels in the fog. The shrieks of the damned are a blissful, primeval hum; the stench of decay is always flourishing. I walk along the rivers of semen and bile that trickle into a thick sea of blood, and I find peace in my work. For a thousand years I have been content in my kingdom. And then you, my beloved, appeared at my gates.

I, of all beings, should appreciate the irony of Universal Law, but I was stunned, you took my breath away. Never did it occur to me that I would see you again, how could I have been so naive? One of my favorite tasks is to torture soul mates, making one watch the other suffer, squeezing them empty of the precious love they believed so rare. And then you, my beloved, were delivered to me.

I was working in the fields happily, the spread-eagled sod before me began a pleasant, pathetic wail at the mere sight of the rake I held. I raised the tool to begin but suddenly paused, shocked to feel your presence. The distinctive energy of you was close. A flock of dead, shrouded in black clouds of hate, were being ushered through the gates and you were amongst them, shuffling along, your head hung low.

Your body bore the marks and lashes of other kingdoms, you had been in Hell a long time but it was apparent you were not yet truly broken. In sheer audacity you clung to the shreds of your royal attire, wrapping them around yourself as if still a noble man. I stared as you walked past, then I returned to my work. Distracted, I tore the fellow before me into thin strips with one quick movement.

***

I left you strung up for days in the fields, uncertain of how I was going to approach you. Never before had I experienced this doubt in my own realm. Was this a test? Was I, Nemesis, being ridiculed? It baffled and insulted me. My prayers to the Infernal Lord were met with silence.

My gimps became nervous as they watched me grow withdrawn and silent.
“What task today Mistress? What wonders may we do today Mistress?” they sniffled and groveled at my feet and I kicked them away, impatient and angry.

“Hang them by their balls! Hook them up by their holes,” I shouted and paced. “Dip them in boiling fat then set them on fire! I don’t care, think of something! Do as you please and leave me alone!”

Brooding, I locked myself away, turning my back on my exquisite realm, until I could avoid you no longer.

***

I lifted your head with the tip of my pitchfork. My great and powerful king, slayer of children, defiler of men, strung up like a corpse waiting to be gutted. I can still see that steady look on your face as you swung your jeweled sword and sliced off my head. You didn’t pause, you didn’t hesitate. Do you see me now? I have evolved; I have become something other, something more, while you have remained a wretch, stubbornly clinging to ideas that no longer serve you. Your royal birth, your blood line, is of no significance here.

Your eyes were glazed and gray, your once handsome face nothing but stretched skin over bone. In your mad delirium you mumbled the ancient hymns of your powerless pagan god. I stuck the spears of the pitchfork deep into your throat to get your attention. You lifted your eyes to meet my own. What traveled between us, in our gaze, horrified me and I let the pitchfork fall. A black putrid liquid seeped from the holes in your neck and trickled, streaking you with slime. 
We stared at each other. I thought it impossible, but it was there, tangible, the remnants of our love.

You recognized me and the mask of your face changed. Something in my long dead and hardened chest began to swell. Your eyes watered. Your tears were of black slime too and the thick drops sat on your cheeks like little bugs. A sound gurgled in your throat as you struggled for a voice. I heard you whisper my name, the name I had in life, and your whisper rattled my kingdom.

“My darling, my darling, is it really you?” you croaked. “Save me.”

A feeble plea dripping with sweet humiliation. Yet my sight blurred, a strange haze surrounded me. My rotten, phantom heart beat louder. Tears, my own tears, that I thought I would never need cry again, began rolling down my cheeks. I cried the blood of devils. I dropped to my knees and wept.

The ravaged earth below me laughed. It was the cruel laughter of the Infernal Lord, pleased to see me, the great Demoness Nemesis, broken. And then I looked up to see you too were chuckling, spluttering your black venom.

My tears stopped. A rage infused me, more glorious than I’ve ever felt before and I shrieked triumphantly at the pleasure of it. Without another moment’s hesitation I stood and rammed the pitchfork through your chest, then jacked it open. Your withered heart was a stone. I yanked it out and swallowed it.

Then I set to work, with renewed delight and focus.
 
Once we reigned as king and queen in a fertile and noble land. Now I reign alone over my own dominion. Your rule was cruel and villainous but my reign is without limitation.

I administered the tortures that you had enjoyed watching as king. I cut your tongue into thin slices, a slice for every lie and bribe you had spoken. A long stake through your anus and out your mouth, for the rapes of young men, women and children. I lost myself in a frenzy of dismemberment, plucking your ribs and vertebrae, savoring each diseased organ, weaving a lace of bondage with your own intestines.

My Lord appeared to me, breaking my reverie, so pleased was He with my work. I prostrated in obedience and we fornicated on your remains. Your gouged eyeballs watched, hanging out of the sockets of your severed head. Your twisted and scalded penis twitched, aroused. Your hands crawled away like bleeding spiders. My gimps came to scrape you up and put you back together again. Your torment will never end; it is a nightmare you will dream for eternity.

I will always be your Nemesis and you will be mine.

~ Veronica Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Echoes 2

Damnlings, welcome yet again to our lair of insanity where our depraved souls leak their nectar for your consumption…

In the collection of prose set forth before you, you will find each of the authors has been constrained to a measure between one hundred and one hundred fifty words; two of which must be borrowed from the nether’s uttering. But fear not, for the Damned wear our shackles well and true – we shrink from no challenge. Sit, read, perhaps ponder… which two of the five words on offer would you chose for a story worthy of the ink that drips from the Pen of the Damned?

DE_Cloud_02


Not His Own
Jon Olson

The Dark One will be happy with this offering. It lies at my feet, struggling for breath – this man of valor. Sadly for him, no one will remember his name; only his actions. His hands, which under my power killed so many, now claw uselessly at the blood soaked earth. Staring into the sky, his eyes begin to glaze over. It is always closest to death that I can be seen. There is a hint of fear in his dulling orbs as he spots me, then a dawning realization that his actions were not wholly his own. In one quick swoop, I reach into his chest, tear out his soul. This will do nicely. Moving on, I look around the battlefield for the next of His children to inhabit.


Amshu and Nerezza
Lee A. Forman

“Why don’t you leave?”

“Why should I?”

“To inhabit a body for too long is dangerous.”

“Don’t you think I’m aware of that?”

“So why do you stay?”

“Why do you?”

Silence grew, both between life and something that wasn’t quite death—an eternal state of non-corporeal existence.

Nerezza grunted and folded both arms across a bare chest. “I came here first.”

“So shouldn’t you be the first to leave?” Amshu raised an eyebrow.

A smile split the coal expression on Nerezza’s face. “No.”

“Why is that?”

“Darkness is absolute. Light fades.”

“So stay here forever.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Quiet! The child awakens!”

With a groan it rubbed its eyes and sat up. It turned its head left and right, looking for the things born in its nightmares.

“Shall we flip a coin?”

“Don’t we always?” Amshu lowered both eyelids with boredom.

“Heads he lives, tails he dies.”


Allies
Joseph A. Pinto

They dug in, their bones, their charred, brittle bones, hacking the dirt with their spades.

Private McDermott watched as the cadaver platoon fortified their position within the trench.  His Sergeant had notified him help would be arriving, but this…?  A shell exploded nearby, and his sense of valor nearly fled.  He buckled his helmet beneath his chin and dropped into the ditch.

The cadavers worked without sound, just earth and burnt stone grinding within their joints.  Flesh, like tattered curtains, hung from their frames.  Foul, heinous things, McDermott had to remind himself these devil-spawns fought on their side now.

A cadaver leered, each socket a hellish foxhole in its own right.  McDermott recognized its prominent jaw line—Jimmy James.  Together they had seen basic training through.

Now McDermott wondered what was worse—the screaming Nazi mortars or the chattering of hungry teeth inside those damned Allied skulls?


Tomb
Veronica Magenta Nero

The air that seeps in from outside is foul, it is tainted with hope, with sentiments of love. Outside there is a world of false promises and pretty lies. The truth is here, in this dark tomb we inhabit. We were sealed in here long ago. The passing of time has become meaningless, I don’t know how old I am anymore. I remember my mothers’ screams as she punched and clawed at the heavy doors. Those sobs and screams, they still echo within these walls. Perhaps my mother is dead but yet she moves. She passes through the walls at night and she returns to feed me in the morning. Warm blood pours from her mouth into mine. Her eyes glitter, they are the only light I ever see. Soon, her eyes seem to say, soon it will be time to leave.


RMS Valor
Thomas Brown

A ripe smell washed over the docks; the sickly aroma of decay. For two hours Mark patrolled the boards, the scattered stores, the shipyard and the steel skeleton of RMS Bravery, chained to the ceilings and the walls. The smell was stronger here; he ducked beneath vast iron ribs, inspected rows of sheet metal, kicked at the crabs who had come to inhabit the dank spaces between these things: nothing.

It was almost midnight when the ship parted the mists. She moved silently, her savage plow cutting clean through the waves. She brought with her the smell. Sitting at his desk, Mark gagged, dropped his pen, did a double-take when her name slid into view: RMS Valor, one year lost to the ocean bed, still wreathed in slime, deck crawling with the lobster-limbs of her new monster crew.


Too late
Zack Kullis

Dust motes floated through the stale air like pallid balloons on a lifeless breeze. Everything had been undisturbed for far too long. How could one such as he, born of noble blood and ancient valor, stoop to inhabit such a foul and loathsome place? Dmitri bowed his head and pressed forward. His father should have reposed in the Vvedenskoye crypt in Moscow with the rest of his kin.

Dmitri passed through the room without disturbing the dust-covered floors. The cement lid to the tomb lie broken on the floor. He was too late. He smelled the wood of the steak before he saw it. The undead wither and become undone rather than die, and what had been his father lie within the tomb. Dmitri picked up the steak, smelled it, and knew where to take his revenge.


Those That Make The Rules
Tyr Kieran

Surrounded by blood and spoiled dreams, I surveyed the land. The ground squirmed with the dying youth—drafted teenagers ripped apart by merciless gears of the war machine. I watched as they clutched at their gore and twitched in agony. The world’s future facing a painful lack thereof simply because they were told to by those that make the rules. What a fucking joke! Foul logic cooked up and served in heaping mouthfuls to kids too blinded by their own testosterone and sense of rebellion to see the truth of it all. Their blood dripped from my fingers. Their last cries echoed in my ears. I survived. I killed under orders in what they deemed efforts of valor. Slaughter, something that would be utterly horrific at home on the suburban cul-de-sacs, was called valiant. Now, I see the cogs in the machine and I will kill for them no more.


Dying Breath
Christopher A. Liccardi

“Valor above all else,” he repeated to himself. The knife plunged deep into his gut was unnoticed. Those who inhabit the dark places often find comfort in such noble monikers but this one was different. He perverted the valorous, the brave, with his hate. The last hero lay at his feet, panting as much from fear as exhaustion. He wore the triumphant grin of those who think that killing a single person can thwart evil.

“That blade was dipped in poison, you bastard,” the hero panted. Blood and spittle flew from the corners of his mouth. “Tonight, you die with us.”

Named after his father for more than his looks, Samael’s grin widened as he collapsed to the ground knowing two more would take his place. Two more would pick up where he left off and valor would die along with the last hero.


A Few Steps
Nina D’Arcangela

The ripe stench sickens; the fetid odor enough to raise the bile of the staunchest bastard, yet here is the place I was born – brought into this world of evils and misdeeds. This cracked, filthy slab of concrete served as both my crib and cradle. Did I ask for this life? No. But granted to me, or shall I say more accurately, thrust upon me, it certainly was. I’ve not shied from the mantle presented; I’ve embraced it and its repugnance with the whole of my being. The squalor within which I exist, the distance from this darkened stoop to the brilliance just beyond has never been a burden for my soul to bear. Though when the gates swing wide, and the light blinds these most dim of eyes, I cannot but wonder if another destiny may have awaited me had she held her birthing fluids a few steps farther…


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

It Drives Me Mad

It drives me mad.

That wet smack.

It is all I ever hear.

I watch them in my shower. Wispy bodies through beaded glass.

He is a strong man. Muscle fibers twitch, bounce within his thighs. The fog does not hide everything; not yet.

I see his face, his head thrown back, eyes clenched as if he is in pain. But I know he is not in pain.

Not yet.

That wet smack drives me mad.

It used to be me in the shower. My wife clings to him now. Legs wrapped around his hips, her perfect feet locked together. Locking her; locking them. He holds her, supports her effortlessly the way I once did; the way I want to.

That wet smack intensifies. His urgent groans fill the stall; my wife remains silent. Fog steals them from me. I am allowed the occasional glimpse of her breast pressed against his chest, the way she used to press against mine.

I am not jealous. I cannot be. This is our lifestyle. We share then come back to one another. But I can no longer come back. I cannot have my wife anymore. Not that way, no longer.

I watch them. Wispy bodies within the billowy fog; within the concealing vapor.

That wet smack.

That wet smack.

Then a thud.

The shower stall erupts in a geyser of red. The glass trickles red; all is red. Now that wet smack turns into a moist suckling.

Moist suckling.

I turn away.

***

The doorbell rings.

I am prepared; I am always prepared.

I greet him, make eye contact as always. It excites them. The eye contact. Knowing you offer your wife so willingly; knowing you offer your wife with such confidence. I lead him upstairs. I lead him to the shower. I watch him undress; he knows the rules. They all know the rules. I watch—I must always watch.

She waits for him in the shower. Perfect body glistening, hair dripping along her back; expectant Goddess. How I once loved to pull that hair; how I once loved to ball it within my fist.

She cracks the stall door open for him, beckoning. Her knowing smile arouses him; her knowing smile cuts me at the knees. He steps inside. The fog claims him; claims them. Water splattering the door as I watch. Beaded bodies through beaded glass. That smack.

That wet smack.

The man is anxious, too anxious. My wife is not pleased.

She ends him.

***

Months.

It has been months since my wife has been mine.

I have lost much sleep wondering how; I have lost much sleep wondering why.

I hear her, the same way I hear her every night; night after night. Her voice echoing down the hall; her voice echoing down my spine. Sweet as ever; suggestive as ever. She does not come out of the shower anymore.

Not anymore.

Tonight as she turns the water on, I imagine her perfect body moving through it. I imagine the water sluicing over her skin. She likes the water hot; she always did. Hot water; hot flesh. It disguises the cold, clammy death she has become.

I hear her calling.

Calling.

But she is not my wife. Not anymore.

I pull the covers over my head; she croons to me.

please

pleeeeeease

I no longer trust who she is; I no longer trust what she has become. I know that if I enter the shower, I am lost.

I will get through this night, somehow. I will get through.

When the doorbell rings tomorrow, I will feed her again.

Even as that wet smack drives me mad.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2016 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

wolf_rule_full_sat

Urges

“I’ve heard it said that the first time is always the best, but that’s bullshit.  It gets better with every experience.  Pain, loathing, hatred and excitement, all rolled up into one moment of indulgence and release.  These urges are altogether unique and exquisite.

“I was about ten years old when I first tasted this fruit.  Mom babysat a noisy pack of snot-nosed shit factories that invaded my space daily.  I couldn’t help but make a few cry at least once a day.  At first I told myself it was for the attention, but I knew better.  The real answer was far more sinister – I enjoyed their pain.

“It was never quite enough, though.  I could feel the thrill build each time, but it didn’t increase, it always remained the same, until things changed. One day mom was asked to tend an infant. Go ahead, look at me with those horrified eyes, it only adds to the pleasure.

“At first I didn’t mean for anything to happen.  Babies are innocent, right?  I went into the house and saw mom holding a little girl.  I guess you would say she was cute.  I didn’t feel an urge to hurt her at first, and it filled me with hope that maybe I had some good inside me.

“I walked up to her sweet as can be and held out my hand.  She looked at me and her cherubic smile was instantly sucked up by her fat little cheeks, and the ugliest scream I’ve ever heard tumbled from her quivering lips.  Did you know that hope getting dashed to pieces has a sound?  It’s abrasive, piercing, and throttles everything.

“I didn’t have any good in me.  Rage seethed from my core and swelled like it never had before.  Nothing was exempt from my hate.

“‘Oh, cute little Erica,’ I cooed as sweetly as I could while I positioned myself behind my mother where she couldn’t see what I was doing.   I patted the babe softly on the back where my mom could see while my other hand pinched and squeezed as hard as I dared without leaving a mark.  I looked into her wide eyes, locked in terror with mine own, and brought every ounce of hate to the surface.  I pushed that torrent of violent emotions through my eyes and willed her to feel it.

“It was intoxicating, although you would never understand.  But that’s enough about my past. Unfortunately for you, I’ve found over the years that an adult’s torment and screams are infinitely more satisfying than those of a child.”

The man stood up and stretched before speaking again.

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to go use the bathroom.  Don’t go anywhere.”

Eric listened as Mark’s feet padded across the cement floor.  The stairs creaked as he left the basement.  When he was sure Mark was gone, he relaxed the stranglehold he had on his emotions and sobbed.

Eric had been in the basement for a few days now, secured to a metal chair with leather straps.  He had screamed, begged, yelled and cried on his first day here, but quickly learned that any show of emotion sent his captor into a crazed fit of violence.

His heart raced wildly as the casual whistling upstairs approached the basement door again.  Anxiety fogged Eric’s mind with its chaos and kept him from thinking straight.  He hated himself for not being able to control his fear.  He did his best to quiet himself as the door opened.  By the time Eric could see Mark’s bare feet step around the corner, he had almost calmed himself completely.

Mark placed two boxes on a table and stood in front of Eric.  “Have you been crying?”

“No…”

Mark hit Eric in the face and looked down at him with a grin.  “You say you weren’t crying, but I call bullshit.  If you can make it through the next twenty minutes without crying hysterically, I’ll let you go.”

Eric knew better than to let hope sprout its worthless seeds in his heart, but desperation took over.  “Yes,” he pleaded.

Mark pulled forceps out of his back pocket and gripped the sides of Eric’s face.  “Open up buttercup,” he said.  Eric’s eyes widened with horror when he noticed the forceps ended in sharp hooks.

Mark shoved the forceps into Eric’s mouth.  Sharp pain shot through his tongue as the forceps bit into the soft tissue.  Mark yanked on his tongue and pulled it halfway out of his mouth.

“I don’t want to do anything that will stop your screaming,” Mark said as he pulled something else out of his back pocket, “but I hate all of the pleading and whining.  Besides, I have a surprise for you.”

Mark grabbed a large, sharpened tube and flashed it in front of Eric’s face.

“This needle is a 0000 gauge, which means the hole in your tongue is going to be nearly half an inch wide.  It’s going to hurt like a bitch.”

Eric bucked against the chair and cried out as Mark pressed the tip of the needle against his tender flesh and pushed.  He could feel the needle as it sliced through the meat, cleaving a hole the size of the tube into his tongue.  Mark shoved a thick metal rod into the end of the needle, and retracted the tube leaving the rod in its place. Before he released the forceps, Mark screwed a nostril sized ball onto the end of the metal shaft.  The rod was long enough that he couldn’t pull his tongue back into his mouth.

“There,” Mark said.  “Now let’s get down to the fun stuff.”

Mark walked over to the boxes on the table.  He picked up the first box and brought it closer to Eric. He shook the box fiercely and caused whatever was inside to react violently.  Mark laughed as he put the box on the floor and brought the second box over and showed it to Eric.

“This box has only one opening.  The inside is lined with mirrors, and there is an LED light in there.  I’m going to put this box on your head because I want you to be able to see what’s going on.”

He placed the box in Eric’s lap and turned on the light.  Mark walked back to the other box and carried it, with its living contents, back to him.  He shook the box one more time and chuckled wickedly.

“It’s been a few days since these guys have eaten,” Mark stated as he opened the top of the second box.  “If you ask nicely, I won’t introduce you to them.”

Mark flipped the second box over so its contents fell into the mirrored box.  Eric tried to beg, but the metal rod through his tongue kept him from speaking.

“No?  Okay, here we go!”

Mark flipped the mirrored box over and placed it over Eric’s head before the things inside could jump out.  The light inside the box made everything horribly clear.  Eric was looking into the beady black eyes of several rats.

The large rodents sat in corners and looked at him with a mix of curiosity and hunger.  Eric tried to calm himself, but wasn’t able to as he watched them inch forward bit by bit, their noses sniffing madly at the air.   They smelled his blood.

One of them darted forward and bit Eric’s bloody tongue.  He screamed and tried to move, but he was secured too tightly to the chair.  When he didn’t defend himself, the other rats dove into the fray.  Raging pain tore through Eric as the rats began to take bites out of his tongue.

They quickly ate his tongue down to the rod that had forced Eric to keep his mouth open.  He pulled what was left of his ravaged organ back inside of his mouth.  One of the rats tried to follow it and stuck its head inside of Eric’s mouth to get the rest of its meal.  Eric bit down on the rat’s head until he felt a crunch and spit the dead rat out as the remaining rodents started tearing at the soft flesh of his cheeks.

Eric knew Mark wanted to hear his screams and cries.  The only thing he could think of was to rob his captor of that joy.  He steeled himself against what was going to be an awful death and opened his mouth.  One of the rats scurried around the other two and darted into his mouth.  He fought against his instincts and let the rat climb inside.  The rodent quickly cut off his breathing as it started to eat.  Eric’s body demanded air, but his mind and heart demanded a quick death.

Eric’s vision started to grow dark around the edges, a welcome thing as he continued to struggle between wanting air and wanting to end the torment.  He bit down on the tail and trapped the rat inside his mouth.  The rodent squirmed for a few seconds before finally finding the only exit; downward.  Eric’s throat bulged as the rat stuck halfway down his esophagus and started clawing to find a way out.

He couldn’t scream, even if he wanted to.  He would die quietly, and that thought filled him with comfort.  Death came slowly, but the last noise that came from Eric was muffled and haunting.  It wasn’t a death rattle, or a cry, but the laughter of the dead.

~ Zack Kullis

© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.

The Abbey

1

It was a dark night, full of clouds and shadows. Whispers carried on the wind, racing through the forest and brushing the trees. The monotonous chanting of a hundred voices lingered on the air.

A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. . .

A figure hurried along the winding forest path. Overhead, the clouds shifted so that the moon emerged just as the figure did from the tree line. The forest was illuminated, a picture of viridian mist and boughs. Even the lake glittered under its glare.

A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. . .

The figure ran on, its hands slipping from beneath its sleeves and revealed for a moment in the moonlight. They were slick with wetness and black as the figure’s habit, which fluttered furiously as it ran.

A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. . .

A long shadow stretched across the lake. Offset by the moon, an abbey rose into the night, its bell-tower cutting into the sky.

“I must not tell lies,” muttered the figure. Reaching the lakeside, he started across a walkway.

“I must not tell lies.” The raps of the knocker, when he reached the doors, rang leaden into the night. It was several minutes before they opened a crack, the wind rushing instantly inside.

“Yes?”

“Please, let me in.”

“We do not take to strangers in these parts.”

“Please, some charity.” The words seemed to have a strange effect on the doorman, the sliver of his face illuminated in a flash of lightning. “I am a man of God, like you.”

“There are no men of God. Not here, not anywhere.”

The door widened nevertheless and the tiny figure slipped inside.

 

2

 

The dining hall was empty. An air of reverence hung about the room, thick like incense or a guilty conscience. Dust coated the armaments and windows, visible as tiny motes in the flashes of lightning. Sin burst into unholy life with every jagged crack, their monstrous forms depicted in the stained glass of the windows

“I was caught unawares, travelling from Glastonbury. The weather fell foul, but we thought we could endure it. We took shelter, set up camp. . . We were wrong.”

“You were caught abroad?”

“By more than God’s rain. It was no ordinary storm but a Sin, come to claim us. Wrath, in all her vitriolic glory. We died. I ran. And now I am here.”

A startled gasp. “They chase your heels? You brought them here?”

“I lost them. I fled into the woods while they stayed to tear at the corpses. . .” The monk began to shake again, his hands rattling against the sturdy wooden table top. Cutlery clattered, the quiet sound reverberating within the heights of the dining hall. “My God, I still have their blood under my nails. . .”

“Your name?”

“Robin,” said the newcomer. “Brother Robin.”

“You will be safe here, Brother. I am Brother William and, for tonight, all that we have is yours.”

The room might have been magnificent, once. Figures decorated the ceiling with beautiful intricacy; depictions from The Book of Sin brought to life in vivid brush-stroke. Above the flickering candlelight, the painting seemed almost to move, a trick of light and Robin’s own heightened imagination, as if the Sins were in the very act of being banished from the world by God and His children. Except, of course, no such thing had ever happened, nor ever would, not so long as men were men.

Both men tucked into their food. Robin ate voraciously, as though afraid his plate might be taken unfinished from before him. The chanting continued; a hallowed, reverential hymn hanging like the dust in the air, and something else. The patter of claws, or tiny feet, skittering through the walls.

“Rats,” muttered William.

“You said earlier that there are no men of God? These do not sound like the words of a man in His service.” Robin peered across at the monk, who twitched but made no move to reply, raising instead a skewered sliver of meat to his mouth. It glistened, pink and bloody, reminding Robin of his own hands. He lowered them self-consciously beneath the table.

“Come,” said William suddenly. Spittle and ham flew from his lips.

“Where are we going?”

“You may be alone, but here we’re many. You must meet the others, before you retire. The Abbot is leading them in prayer.”

 

3

 

The two figures slipped noiselessly through the passages of the abbey. All about them, the hymn hung heavy on the air. They passed through great halls, their footsteps echoing on the cracked flagstone floors. Archways towered over them, engraved with signs of the cross, and every corridor was dimly lit with tiny candles. They wavered and danced, like the dying light in a man’s eyes, as the two monks ghosted past.

“I’ve never seen such architecture. I must admit, I’m somewhat in awe.” The two passed a statue, the edifice staring down at them righteously from its pedestal. An engraving beneath said St. George, who Robin remembered well as being the military saint responsible for casting back one of the Seven.

Outside, black clouds amassed in the night sky. Robin could see them as William and he strode through the cloisters towards the church, the monastic heart of the abbey. The church reared up before them. Windows watched them, more Sins staring monstrously at their approach. Then they were passing through the church’s doors and into the building proper.

Reverent song prickled at the back of Robin’s neck. It was holy, sanctimonious, resonating within his bones as if he’d been struck by one of the very bolts that danced through the night sky. Goosebumps ran the length of his robed arms.

“The hymn. . .”

From beside him, William nodded. “I know. I know.”

The church was humbler than the rest of the abbey but no less beautiful. Rows of benches led up to a dais at the front, atop which three small altars could be found. The place was old, as old as anything of the abbey Robin had already seen, but lacked the dust and decay that he had so far grown accustomed to. The church looked attended to. Cared for. Perfect, in every way.

At each row of benches stood a dozen monks, their backs turned, hoods covering their heads so that only their voices could be heard. More stood at the front on the raised platform, and at the pulpit a lonely figure: the Abbot himself, leading his congregation in solemn song.

“I recognise the hymn,” whispered Robin.

“They sing for God and to ward off evil. To ward off the Sins, in all their guises.”

“Such a thing is not possible, you realise.”

“We do our best, given the times.”

Robin’s eyes flashed with the lightning. ‘There are no men of God. Not here, not anywhere.”

William hung his head. He looked tired, suddenly. A hundred years old. “Perhaps I spoke rashly, before. Certainly I regret those sentiments. There are many on God’s earth who would. . . well, who would kill to be so close to Him, if you will excuse the expression.”

“You’d say they envy you?”

“I would.”

“And in doing so, they would sin.”

William glanced back at Robin, a stranger, at the heart of their abbey. His hair was still drenched, although it had been well over an hour since he’d been admitted past their walls. The blood of his comrades was no less slick about his hands. Surely it should have dried by now? Surely he should have wanted to wash?

“Forgive me, Brother, I forget; to which order did you say you belonged?”

“I did not, merely that I was travelling from Glastonbury.”

“Ah, I assumed. . .”

“Indeed. You know, it really is an abbey above all others that you have here. Beautiful. God would be proud.”

“Pride, Brother, is a sin like all others.”

“Envious of you, then, to live in such luxury.”

Something was happening to Robin. His waterlogged hair was lengthening before William’s eyes. A pallor overcame his flesh, such that he looked more like a statue or – God forbid – a corpse, than a living, breathing man. The blood began running like dirty water from his hands, two puddles growing around the monk’s habit .

“What’s happening? What trickery is this?”

“I have enjoyed your company, Brother, so much so in fact that I’ve decided I would quite like to be you.”

Time slowed, everything illuminated in a single flash of lightning. Robin span on his heel, habit fluttering like the wings of a bat as he descended on William. Hands closed around the monk’s neck, even as William plunged a knife into Robin’s shoulder. The iron blade slid smoothly and without resistance into skin and bone alike, and Robin shrieked obscenely. Bladeless, his weapon buried to the hilt, William dropped to the floor. Bloody handprints circled his bruised throat.

“Sin!” he screamed. “Brothers, Sin! See how the iron burns its flesh!”

The assembled monks did not rise to his aid. They did not fly in defence of their abbey. They did not move but continued to sing, their monotonous moans carrying far into the night.

“It is always dark, where I come from. There is no light. No warmth. We have no birdsong, save the screams of the crows. The screaming. They do not stop screaming.”

Scrabbling away, William backed against a statue. He felt alone. Trapped. But the statue brought him comfort. It was another of St. George; tall, defiant, clutching an ancient sword in its hands.

“You will always find screaming. This abbey is no different. Can you not hear the wind, Beast, as it races through the woods? It screams to feel, to touch. The dying, they scream as their lives are extinguished. The living scream when theirs are not. God’s earth is a chorus of cries.”

“Poetic,” hissed Robin, haggard, the knife still steaming in his shoulder. “I like you even more.”

William wrenched the sword from the statue. It came free with a lurch, sent him spinning, the blade careering towards Robin’s twisted face. He swung it with all his might, a prayer to the Lord on his lips.

A stony hand grabbed his chest from behind. It held him still even as another punched into his back. His vision failing, William had just enough time to look down, to see his bloody heart in its fingers, before he slumped to the church floor.

Giggling obscenely, St. George sprang into the air. Two glassy wings burst from its back as it took flight, twitching and euphoric into the rafters. Its skin rippled like liquid shadow.

Robin watched his child as it flew. “Silly monk,” he shrieked, casting off his own glamour. Slick hair cascaded from her head, clinging to the infantile body beneath. Pale flesh glinted wetly in the candlelight and two shards of broken emerald shone where there should have been eyes.

Envy plucked the steaming dagger from her shoulder. Black blood spat from the wound, not unlike that of the congregation’s, murdered earlier by her hands. Not that it had stopped them singing, of course. She did so enjoy their singing.

“Silly, silly monk.”

Movement, in the shadows. Shapes ghosted in and out of the darkness, flitting between this world and another. Faint shrieks and triumphant barks joined the unending hymn. Envy watched the unholy procession with a wicked grin; the flutter of crow wings, the clicking of bones, screams of malediction and joy alike filling the despoiled church. Scuttling down the aisle like a spidery spinster, she sprang atop the central altar.

“And now, Lesson One,” she crooned, her voice cracked, sing-song. “Lesson One. Lesson One. . . We must not tell lies.”

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2016 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 17

broken_link

Good Grace
Nina D’Arcangela

The metamorphosis begins with the lick of first dew. As Mother’s milk rains down, do we not feel the fracture, the impending breach; do we not begin to break under her ever present gaze? To hold fast we strive, yet a fool’s errand that. Mother will have her way, with rod or lash; we will obey. Extruded beyond time, a limit reached, one gives way with a whispered screech of banshees yet unheard. For as the coil rips asunder, so does the edge tip; the ferry no longer granting safe passage, we no longer the guardians in Mother’s good grace.


And It Swings
Joseph A. Pinto

And it swings and it swings and it swings o’er your head, the links like your memory eroding with time.  And you pray for the drop, do you not?  And you pray for the final fall.  And you have never been stronger than your weakest.  And you refuse to look Death in the face.  And all that you have lost still pains you.  And all that you live is a lie.  And you wonder how the gaps became so wide now.  And you wonder who is really holding on at all.

And it swings and it swings and it swings.


Broken Link
Veronica Magenta Nero

For months he watched her. The daily pattern of her life was his obsession. He studied her like a jigsaw puzzle, carefully fitting every piece in perfect place until the picture of who she was formed clearly in his mind. The time had finally come. To make his move. When he stepped out from the shadows onto her path he couldn’t have predicted her response. His plan was flawless, meticulous, he thought to himself as he choked and clutched his wet throat. She was the broken link. More twisted than he. She smiled as she drove the knife deeper in.


Will They Follow?
Jon Olson

Crows caw as my encased body sways above the ground. Weakly, I open my eyes, greeted by a familiar and featureless landscape. For four days now, this has been my view. The rusty chain holding my support post creaks, weakening in the bleak sun, threatening to break at any moment. Around me the crows circle impatiently; their caws urging me to die. Soon, once the chain breaks, I will do as they wish. Below is the large pit, the bottom of which I cannot see; where those who came before me now lie. Will the crows follow me down there?


Eyeless
Lee A. Forman

Does it know? Can it even see?

The absence of eyes leads her to think not.

She watches as the humanoid form scuttles close to the wall, its black featureless head tilting at odd angles. Insectile clicks echo in the dank cellar as it moves fingerless hands along the wall.

It makes her think of Grandpa—and how the cancer ate him alive. He always said it was the creature that gave it to him.

She watches the broken link as it pulls the chain tight. Her hands begin to shake.

How long did he think that chain would last?


Providence
Christopher A. Liccardi

Hanging, literally by a thread, my doom awaited. It swung, like luck, over me without remorse. I smiled at it.

My existence had been this fragile before and I’d survived. Would it be so again? Would the fates conceded the point and let me live? It was nothing to dwell upon. I would either make the trip across the rusted steel or I would plummet to my well-deserved end. Either way, forward was my direction. My prize wait on the other side and all I needed to do was make it past that final rusted link, the weakest link.


A Lunch to Remember
Zack Kullis

He had endured years of brutal teasing at the construction site. His coworkers were a bunch of knuckle dragging bastards, grownup versions of the little bastards that had taunted him throughout school. He looked down at the crew eating lunch directly below him.

He stood at the edge of the I-beam, tightened the rope around his neck, and stepped off. The ground rushed up. He knew his full bowels would let loose, his speed would pop his head off, and the last thing they would get from him would be his laughter, following by his shit, blood, and eternal hatred.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Cera

Rush stood, paralyzed.

All the muscles in his body had gone slack. His gun was drawn, but it was so much useless metal in his hand.

The flashlight had fallen when the old man touched him; it rolled along the floor at his feet in a lazy arcing motion that mocked the fear he was now feeling. The light reflected jaunty shadows in front of his eyes and he wanted to scream, but could not.

“I’ve been waiting for you Detective. I thought you would come back, that you would come to see the exhibit,” the old man said. His accent was heavier now than it had been. “Why are you really here? I have a guess but then again, you don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two about the predictability of humans.”

Rush tried to remember his training, to remember the things they taught at the academy. All his cop bravado left him. He was at the mercy of the old man lurking in the shadows.

“I could let you talk, but I don’t know how much it would change things. You have questions young man. I can see them on your lips, but the answers don’t matter, not really.” he said.

Rush could hear the gloating satisfaction in his voice. It was the same sardonic sound he heard in court months ago. Rush had wanted to hit him then, too. He tried to tighten the finger that lay on the trigger of his gun, but nothing happened.

“Let me guess a few, shall I? After all, we’re in no great hurry here. Your department doesn’t even know you’ve returned, do they?” he asked. “You want the truth, am I right? You want to know the how and the why.” The old man was moving around behind him; Rush could hear him but still couldn’t see anything more than a shadow.

“Possibly you wanted to come return all the property you took during the trial? You came here to give back my things, my tools, and you happened to wander in to the workshop because you couldn’t find me upstairs with the rest of the old relics.

“I don’t see any of my things here, Detective so you must be here for answers.”

The old man shuffled into the light. He walked the distance between them with the same hunched-over waddle he had before. He stepped in front of Rush and straightened with an effort.

“I am going to let you speak, for now,” the old man said and touched Rush’s throat.

“What the hell did you do to me, old man?” Rush belched out in a roar; every other muscle in his body useless.

The old man tottered a bit, then crumpled back into his hunched posture and stepped back from the detective. He looked frail, battered and too old to be a murderer.

“My family has been doing this for a very long time, Detective, and we’ve gotten exceedingly good at it. In fact, you are the first person to come so close to guessing the truth about what we do in over a century.”

This man was a direct descendant of the exhibits creator, Marie, but to Rush, he looked like any other murderer.

The old man looked up at Rush and smiled.

“What have you done to me, scumbag?” Rush bellowed again. He could think of nothing else to say. All the questions about the victims and the wax statues were gone.

“Come now, Detective! Let’s not resort to the vulgar just yet. I have so much to show you.” He smiled again and Rush tried to cringe back. The old man seemed to have too many teeth.

“What did you do to me?” Rush demanded. He was scared now on some deep and childish level that he didn’t understand.

The man stepped a bit closer and took the gun from his hand. He placed it on a table near the two of them and turned back.

“You can have it back when I am finished. I’m afraid the bullets wouldn’t agree with me,” he said.

“Don’t touch me!” Rush spat out.

“I’d like to say that everything will work out for you when I am done, but that isn’t likely. I doubt anyone will fuss over a police officer gone missing after such an embarrassing moment in the spotlight.” The old man took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.

Rush watched as the man reached up again. He paused, his finger looming an inch from Rush’s face. He looked like a man contemplating some monumental decision.

He touched Rush on the cheek under his left eye and the color began to drain from his vision. His left eye dimmed and then was gone. He didn’t feel anything but picked up the slow movement on his cheek where the man had touched him. Something dribbled down his face. The old man reached up and plucked it off his cheek.

Rush began to scream when he realized it was his eyeball.

The old man touched his right cheek and laughed as the screaming doubled then morphed into the choking sound of hyperventilation.

“You see, Detective…” he started and then shook his head. “Actually, you can’t see so I’ll describe it to you. I’ve gotten rid of your eyes because we won’t need them. I shall give you new ones when I am done.” The old man stepped up to Rush and plucked the right eye off as it rolled down his stubble covered face, then tossed both orbs onto the floor.

“It’s customary to remove the eyes from the exhibits as the trauma of watching your own death can cause… unexpected changes in skin tone and hair. You still have your ears so you can listen. I think it’s a fair trade for the tools and time you took from me during the investigation and trial,” the old man said, still polite, still smiling.

He reached up to Rush’s mouth and stuck his finger in.

Rush wanted to gag, but couldn’t move more than his throat. His tongue flopped out of his mouth mid scream. Blood and saliva spilled down the front of him.

“Detective Rush, I will be doing something that you may consider rather gruesome, but I assure you it’s necessary. When it begins, you are going to feel nothing, but I promise it won’t end that way. Sometimes I can still hear them screaming a day or two after but not every time,” the man said.

Rush fought his paralysis as hard as he could, forcing his will against every nerve and muscle but his body would not respond. He could smell his own fear now.

“The last thing we need to do before we can continue, Detective, is to remove your clothing and have everything cleaned and pressed. Undoubtedly you will spoil yourself and that won’t do. I assure you though, you will look as professional and well dressed as any officer of the law in this fine city,” the man said with an air of perfectionist pride.

The fear finally shattered his resolve. Rush felt his bladder let go. Bile crept in to his mouth and he vomited. He was going to die at the hands of this monster.

“We’ve come so far since you kicked in the door of my home and the museum. Your meddling almost cost me everything, Detective, and I think it’s only fair to tell you the entire truth as we proceed,” he said.

Rush could hear the sound of something on wheels being moved across the room. It mocked the same waddling gait the old man had when he walked.

“You were so much closer to the truth than you ever realized.” The sound of metal on metal filtered in through Rush’s panic. He could hear things that sounded sharp and painful.

“I used to embalm my exhibits after ending their lives, but I’ve found a way to do it while the subject is still breathing. It’s a bit more painful but in the end, it gives each of you a more life-like feel. Now, I am going to place a needle in your arm. You won’t feel the pinch but the rest, well, you’ll see.”

Rush felt something in his arm where the old man had touched him. It was pressure at first, but the pain that followed was immediate. Rush began to scream again as the old man touched his throat, the scream cut off; Rush passed out.

***

“…and this is our newest and most popular exhibit. The curator calls this ‘New York’s Finest‘ and will feature the men and women in uniform from all over The Big Apple.”

Rush heard the pleasant female voice pass and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. The realization of what happened hit him and he tried to scream and thrash about. Nothing came out of his mouth; he couldn’t move.

The voices faded, as did the footsteps.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

Controlled

Letters and symbols vibrated on the screen—C# programming conditions that barely made sense to him anymore. Blinking, he tried to halt their rebellious dance, but each moment of blissful darkness brought Mel that much closer to involuntary shutdown. He’d never gone twenty-two hours straight before, nor beyond a ninety-hour work week, but here he was.

The clock in the lower corner reminded him that this sleep-deprived torture was far from over. 6:58AM. Brad’s Lexus would be parking across two visitor spaces out front by now. His entrance was always a whirlwind of douche-baggery.

Moments later, the boss stormed off the elevator, his briefcase swinging wildly as his heavy footfalls stopped at Sheryl’s desk. She looked up at him with half-squinted eyes, as if anticipating the full force of Brad’s backhand. Sheryl was new, only employed since the second quarter began, but she’d been around long enough to experience the worst. He must have something on her too, Mel thought as he peeked over the low cubical wall, otherwise why would she put up with this?

“Good morning, Sir,” she said.

“Don’t just sit there on your fat ass like you’re at home surfing Pinterest for your recipe wishlist, get me the latest shareholder’s report, the morning paper, and the status report for the Streamline project.”

Brad’s verbal barrage didn’t stop there. His demands and insults continued as he marched down the hall to his office, stopping for a moment as he reached his desk. He flopped the briefcase down, shaking the glass walls surrounding him, and sighed in a dramatic exhale. “For fuck’s sake, Sheryl. Where’s my double-espresso latte? You know I need it ready by 7AM.”

With an expletive of her own, she hurried off to the break room to fulfill his request.

Mel kept his head down, preparing himself for the inevitable summoning.

“Code-monkey,” Brad shouted. “Get in here.”

Mel rubbed his face in a brisk motion—trying to wipe the stress away—before shuffling into his bosses’ office. After squeezing into the chair Brad was crowding from his perch atop the desk, Mel stared down at his hands. Despite feeling cold and numb, as they usually did after long bouts of typing, they were sweating. Mel tucked his hands under his thighs for warmth just as Brad opened the discussion.

“How much farther did you get last night?”

“I scripted most of the control statements and I’m close to completing a prototype shell of the app, but as I said before we have to confirm the core attributes before—”

“We talked about this, Mel,” Brad said, tossing his hands. “Just get it done, we’re on a tight deadline.”

“I understand that, Sir. But, we cannot guarantee anything without—”

“Whoa! What the fuck, Mel? Don’t ever mention guarantees; they lead to lawsuits.” Brad punctuated his command with a sharp slap to the back of Mel’s skull.

The strike froze him for a moment; shoulders raised, eyes squinted, mouth half-agape in mid-syllable.  Then Mel reset his posture with slow resignation—funneling all his frustration into a moment of gritted teeth that his dentist would surely complain about at his next appointment.

Unsheathing his hands, he offered them up in placation, hoping to dampen his boss’s fuse as he explained further. “Sorry, Sir. I hear what you’re saying, but without defining all the client specifics like intended application interaction or even required platform compatibility, we’re setting ourselves up for massive revisions. If I could only have a conversation directly with the client, I think—”

“No!” Brad shouted at him, thrusting a finger in his face. “Leave the thinking to me. I manage the clients. You do the programming. Got it?”

Sheryl bustled into the room and, with great care, placed a large cup of coffee on Brad’s desk behind them.

Brad turned and stared her down, annoyed eyes screaming about her ill-timed entrance. Taking his meaning, Sheryl slunk out of the room, visually cringing from the attention, but not before exchanging a quick glance of understanding with Mel.

Maintaining his ocular assault, Brad picked up the tall cup and sipped.

“Sheryl, dear?” he called after her.

She turned.

“This is liquid-shit and you’re fired.” Despite Brad’s calm, Mel winced at the statement. Sheryl was a nice, intelligent woman. She didn’t deserve to be fired over coffee, let alone catering to mundane requests in the first place. The change of job might benefit her in the end, but it would still hurt. Sheryl had two daughters to care for and this salary was her only means of putting food in their fridge.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open, and before she turned away, Mel saw tears already streaming from her eyes. He clenched his fists. His cold fingers now pulsed with a swollen heat, the same sensation that stoked his gut with a churning energy.

“Mel,” Brad cooed, feigning compassion while he perched on the edge of his desk. “The project scope isn’t going to change until we show the prototype and we don’t have the budget for extensive revisions, so get it done and do it right the first time… am I understood?”

Mel seethed in silence—a furious bouncing of the right leg, white knuckled fists, and longer, deeper breathing.

“I needn’t remind you that my father owns Maven Digital Media. Your poor mother’s position might be eliminated if suggestions are made for leaner operations.”

The sound of Brad’s voice seemed distant behind the maddening rush of blood pulsing through Mel’s body. Accelerated breaths pressured out his nose like a show-prepped bull in Madrid’s main arena.

“Oh, and I talked to the client on the way in this morning.” Brad continued, leaning closer. “Due to competitive market pressures, I had to shorten the deadline by another week to keep them happy.”

Mel’s jaw cried out, threatening to strain muscles or chip teeth. The voice in the room was nearly washed out by the white-hot torrent surging through his mind. A rising growl started to form in his throat.

“…don’t care if you sleep under your desk, you’re going to—”

“Shut up!” Mel screamed, releasing the words at full volume. They reverberated off the office walls as Brad fell silent in their wake.

His boss phased through multiple emotions in a matter of seconds: from clenched anger, to confusion and finally landing on pale disbelief.

Mel watched him. What was he doing? Where was the predictable backlash?

Still emboldened from his rage, Mel prodded. “Well?”

His boss remained silent. Beads of sweat formed across his brow above an expression that Mel had never seen from him before. Still, no reply.

“Say something!” Mel conceded.

“Ghw-wha da fuck did you do to me?” Brad touched his throat and sucked air as if someone had been choking him.

“Huh?”

“I couldn’t talk.” Brad explained, fumbling the words between breaths. “I—I tried but nothing came out. You did something to me. Did you poison my coffee?!”

Mel, more frustrated and confused than anything else, splayed his fingers incredulously.

“What? I didn’t do anything to you. I just told you to shut… up.” As the words fell from his mouth, a crazy, sleep-deprived thought popped into his head. No sane person would ever consider it to be possible, but sanity was a foreign state on days like this, in work environments like this.

Mel needed to know. Brad was still complaining, when Mel spoke again.

“Brad, be quiet please.” He said causally, barely audible over his boss’s ramblings—ramblings that suddenly halted.

Mel’s eyes popped wide. So did Brad’s.

“Grab your index finger in one hand,” Mel said, dishing an order that would irrefutably prove his illogical theory, “…and break it!”

His boss’s eyes somehow opened even wider as his right hand clasped his left index finger. While frantically shaking his head against his own actions, Brad bent his finger backward until there was an audible snap. A muffled cry leaked out of his sealed lips.

Mel shot to his feet—his chair toppling over backward—and clutched his head with both hands, as if to keep his mind contained; to keep it from exploding. “What the fuck?”

Hearing the commotion, Sheryl rushed into the office, still holding a box of her personal effects. Her gaze of confusion shifted back and forth between the men.

Mel turned to her, “Wait there… you gotta hear this.”

She didn’t budge.

“Brad,” Mel said firmly. “Pick up your coffee and pour it on your head.

He did. Again, he cried out a muffled whimper of pain. His soaked shirt steamed.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open.

Mel grinned.

It was a smile that told of much more than humor. It was wider than normal and yet still concealed his teeth. It reeked more of foreshadowed mischief than of satisfaction. It was a smile that would make others uneasy, but Sheryl, in this odd moment in time, found it comforting.

“Brad, apologize to Sheryl. Rescind her termination and offer her a fifty percent raise.”

He did, despite an expression of great struggle—words sloppy from forced syllables. His complexion reddening as veins bulged in his neck and forehead.

She accepted with a nervous laugh.

“It’s okay.” Mel said to her. “It’s true. Go ahead and unpack your things.”

She left the room with a smile on her face.

“Now. Here’s how it’s going to go,” Mel instructed.

“You’re going to forget my mother completely. You’re going to hire at least two more programmers to work under my management. You’re going to give me a fifty percent raise and you’re going to allow me to communicate directly with clients during project planning. Oh, and you’re going to stay out of my business. Got it?”

Brad nodded with such force that he might have earned a mild concussion.

“Oh, and if you deviate from my wishes at any time,” Mel said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll tell you to slit your own throat.

“And, just so you don’t think I’m bluffing… break another finger.”

Brad did as he was told.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

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