The End

“They did this to themselves. They brought us back and now is the time for them to feel the consequences.”

I look from Beleth to the house next door and give a friendly wave. Pastor Tom, sitting on his front porch, pretends not to see it and turns his head from our direction.

“That’s not very Christian of him now, is it?” I say.

Beleth continues, ignoring my comment. “Nothing can be in moderation anymore. Everything is to the extreme,” the last bit spoken like a commercial announcer. “So, here we are. And soon it will be time to right the ship.”

A group of children and parents round the corner to our house. Beleth stops talking and waits. The kids gasp as the motion sensors kick on and our yard comes alive. Fog rolls out from the machines tucked behind our bushes, the lights on our porch flicker on and off, and Beleth cackles as eerie music emanates from unseen places. A couple of children approach unaffected while others hesitantly come up holding their parents’ hands.

“Trick or treat!”

Beleth stands up and opens his arms wide. Halloween is the one night he can be most like himself, his feline features muted but not totally hidden. “Wonderful children, just wonderful! Now, before you get a treat, you all must answer a tricky question from me. Are you ready?”

The children nod and some of the parents take pictures. Beleth gets down on one knee. “Who will be brave and step forward to answer my question?”

His grin is like the Cheshire Cat and I can’t help but smile and shake my head, taking one more glance across the yard at Pastor Tom, who is scowling at the scene.

A boy, about ten, dressed as a soldier, steps up to Beleth. “Ah, a brave warrior!” Jeeze, he’s laying it on thick this year. “Now, to get your treat, answer me this: What is … twenty times ten?”

Beleth’s grin never faltered. You write one book on mathematics and you think you are God’s gift. The boy looks around for a second, the question seemingly catching him off guard. “Uhh, two hundred, sir.”

“Very good!” he says, and touches the boy on the shoulder. “You can get your treat from my friend Adra right there.”

I hand out the full-size candy bars, yeah, I’m showing off, what about it? as each child answers their math-related question.

As the last one comes to me, Beleth stands back up. “Gene, is that you? I didn’t even recognize Timmy in his costume! We have enough for the parents too, don’t be shy.” He bares his fangs and his cat eyes light up. Gene comes up and introduces us to the other parents. Beleth shakes each one’s hand. “Thank you so much for bringing your kids and letting them have some fun on this wonderful night.”

I know how his touch marks them and I’m not sure if they will thank him or curse him for it later.

The group heads next door to Pastor Tom’s. He waits on his porch and hands each kid a pamphlet. I’ve read it, and it’s not very good, all about the evils of Halloween and how you should have Jesus as your lord and savior and whatnot. Really not my style. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. He’s a good guy and he’s a big part of the reason for what’s about to happen.

The kids take their “treat” from Pastor Tom and move on to the next house on our block. Beleth’s cackle pulls me back to the task at hand as he gets up from his chair.

“Wonderful, children, just wonderful!” And the scene from moments ago plays out numerous times throughout the next couple of hours.

***

“Adra, it’s ten fifty, you ready to do this?” Beleth asks from the other room.

“You know, it’s been a few minutes since I’ve been myself. I’ve got a bit more to contend with than you do. One minute.” I run my hands down my six-packed torso. It’s been much too long since I was my real self and, damn, I look good. Yeah, still showing off. Deal with it. “Besides, he lives next door. Not like we have far to go.”

Stepping back, I take in the image staring back at me from the full-length mirror. I twist my neck, stretching the muscles. I smile at the sight, but it isn’t as … well, charming as Beleth’s. In my true form I have the head and body of a donkey. I walk upright on hooves, but I need hands, so while they match the rest of my fur, they are still human form. I flick my long tail and unfurl the peacock feathering behind me. Each of the green feathers has a blue eye in it that I can use to see my warriors across the world. I snap the feathers closed and let my tail drag behind me as I walk out of the bedroom.

Beleth is waiting in the living room. “Marvelous,” he says. “Adramelech, you are a sight.” He is in full black cat form, and like me, he still walks upright and chooses to keep his human hands too. “What music shall we dance to? Maybe the Valkyries?” From his body the song begins to play quietly in the room.

I shake my head, rolling my eyes, and walk out the front door. “Now who are we waiting on?”

The street is quiet at this time of night and there is a subtle hint of sulfur in the air. I unfurl my train and before I can open myself to the eyes of my soldiers, I hear Beleth’s, “Mmmmm.” Told you I looked good.

Everyone is in place waiting on our signal.

On the road, the two of us walk next door, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing every step of the way. I look across the street at Gene’s house. They are marked and will be safe, through this round. Beyond that, I’m not sure. All the powers-that-be want is the world to get back to a balance. And once we start, we won’t stop until the bosses are happy with their creation.

We look like two well-costumed humans, as do the rest of us all over the world. If anyone is watching, there’s no cause for alarm. At least not until it’s too late. The motion sensor detects us and Pastor Tom’s porch light pops on as we step up to his door.

This is where it begins, with a horribly misinformed ‘servant’ of God, in charge of a nothing little church in a suburb of St. Louis.

No one could envision it starting this way.

I close my tail, pull my leg up, and am about to kick the door in when…

“Wait a second,” Beleth harshly whispers. “I have it.” ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ turns into one of Beleth’s favorite songs, ‘Superbeast’. The aggressive drums and guitar swell around us and off into the night air.

“Really?” I say. “Little on the nose, don’t you think? And there is no way he is going to know this.”

“Who cares about him? I think it’s great. It’s fucking Rob Zombie, over-the-top rock and roll about monsters and sex and violence. Plus, have you seen his movies? It’s everything they hate. This is the perfect music.” He nods at the door, teeth bared. “Go for it.”

I kick my leg out and the door bursts inward. We rush in, heading up the stairs to Pastor Tom’s room. The growling vocals and crunching guitar fill the house, ‘devil’ music announcing our arrival.

Pastor Tom’s eyes are wide as he scrambles out of bed. “Wha … what are you? What’s going on?”

Beleth steps out from behind me. “We’ve come for your daughter, Chuck.” And he laughs at his own joke.

Pastor Tom screams and pisses himself, then quickly regains some form of composure. “My daughter? I … I don’t have a—”

“Really? It’s from a movie. It’s when—oh hell. Never mind. No respect for the classics.” Beleth glances up at me and is about to say more when he’s interrupted by an outburst from Pastor Tom.

“Get out of here! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”

I let my tail free once more, each eye begins moving as I watch through them. Across the world my men are attacking. They fight side by side with the angels. Our time is now, the Vetting has begun.

“The power of Christ compels you! The power of—”

“Give it a rest, man!” Beleth barks at him. “This isn’t The Exorcist or something. And to be fair, Christ is sick of your shit. You and your kind.”

The man of God before us once again tries to control the situation. “Kill me, foul demon, and I will be in heaven with my creator.”

“Care to explain things to him, Adra?”

His eyes widen even more at the mention of my name, as it all sinks in, the whole demons living right next door and whatnot.

“You see, Pastor Tom, the world is about to change. We are going to kill you, but you aren’t going to heaven to be with God. Oh no. People like you are why God sent us back. You have perverted his word. Twisting everything to make it an evil or a sin. That isn’t life. That isn’t the way.”

“No! No, this is a test. This is my test. You are false prophets. Demons meant to tempt me. You…”

I step forward and slap him across his face, shutting him up.

“And it’s not just your religion, so you aren’t even special there. It’s all of them. All the extremists in the world. Things have gotten a little too out of control here for God’s liking. He let you pathetic creatures think for yourselves and you fucked it up. Frankly, I’m surprised he waited this long, but I digress. So, he has sent down the angels from heaven and called the warriors from the underworld to fight together and regain control.”

Pastor Tom stares at me in silence.

Beleth rejoins the conversation. “Look, man, it’s irony.” He turns to me. “Irony, right?”

I shrug my shoulders, and he continues. “Irony. God, the good guy, is going to have demons, the bad guys, work with his warriors to reset this mess of a planet. Those that survive will be a part of his new plan. And all you overzealous, everything bashing, every other religion hating, everything is evil people, are not part of it.”

Beleth lunges forward, cat-like claws slash at Pastor Tom’s neck and blood explodes from it. I see him scream, but hear no sound as music blares forth from my partner, shattering the windows throughout the house.

Beleth quiets the music and Pastor Tom gurgles in the corner struggling to survive. “Where to next?” My partner says.

“Are you kidding me?” I say as I receive our next order. “Topeka, Kansas.”

“I have just the song.” Beleth blinks out of existence and I swear off in the distance I hear, ‘It’s Raining Men.’

“I’ve been wanting a shot at those guys. This is going to be fun.” I say to Pastor Tom, and disappear from the room.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

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Decision

He stands before us, judged not by a jury of his peers but by that of the high council. We watch as the screen displays the heinous act he’s accused of perpetrating. I hear the ticking of the ever-present metronome of my mechanical mind; I know it’s almost time.

I’ve seen everything: past, present, and future – this wouldn’t have been his final atrocity. On his knees, he cries and pleads for mercy. The council members listen, though his sniveling and empty promise of ‘never doing it again’ falls on deaf ears.

We resign and leave him sitting in his home-made puddle of regret. I watch the others
deliberate, unable to ignore the constant noise of the mechanism in my mind. The ticking finally stops, the others stand and I follow. Upon entering the courtroom once more, we see the accused no longer crying, he now sits cross armed and smirking; his true nature on display.

The screen of static the judge wears as a head swivels in the defendant’s direction, “Mr. Habert,” he intones, “we have made our decision.” The man stands and shuffles toward the council, he looks at each of us with abhorrent malice in his eyes.

“Mr. Habert, it is our opinion that to simply punish you for this…” interjects our celestial member with disgust clearly etched on his face, “would not be lawful recompense for your horrors.” The galaxy that floats around him quivers as he delivers the last of his statement in a booming voice.

“You will be forgotten, your name stripped, and you sir,” I say in time with the pendulum swinging in my head, “will be eradicated.” I watch the man’s lips curl; he begins to laugh. He shouts obscenities and vows that we’ll regret this action.

The final magistrate, a female made entirely of timber, reaches toward him. She begins to peel away layers of bark from her own limbs and splays them out carefully, each rung containing part of a story; a retelling of his life. Restrained as he is, he tries to snatch at them in futility.

I twist knobs attached to my clockwork head, he painfully ages as we watch. Bones shift, wrinkles mar his once smooth skin, his skeleton cripples inward, demeaning his stature that much more. The guards let him drop to the floor weak and brittle. He peers up at the council, eyes riddled with sickness and remorse; he cries out for mercy – this time his plea is genuine.

“Any last words?” Asks the judge through ever changing displays on a fuzzy screen. The man can barely shake his head, all fight lost; his strength and will to live sapped from him. The wooden maven peels the strips of bark back unto herself and begins to consume them.

“So be it,” chimes the arbiter whose galaxy is now thrust into overdrive; every star and planet zipping around him as though they might explode. “Your atoms will be spread across the universe.” He smiles. Terror builds in the now elderly defendant’s bulging eyes as the wooden maven breathes a cloud of particles into the maelstrom.

The elderly convict’s flesh and sinew strips away inch by agonizing inch, only to emerge as shimmering dust thrown to the cosmos. He screams in agony; we grin in satisfaction as the show on the judge’s face has just begun.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Murder House

Everybody in town called it the Murder House, but Mia simply called it home. Here is the front porch where (he stood and hacked open the door with a hatchet) she used to play with her dolls. This is the parlor where (Mother was slain) she learned to sit up properly and greet guests nicely. Here’s the kitchen where (the knife was taken) Mother cooked breakfast and here is the master bedroom where (the rest of it happened) her parents kept a small chair, a lamp, and a basket of books. It was her favorite spot in the house, keeping her (hidden while her father’s blood splashed the walls) safe and happy.

Before, she had just been Mia, a quiet girl with big eyes and dark hair pulled back by a bow. After, she became The Only Survivor, the little girl who witnessed her family’s slaughter. People didn’t ask her to play ball or Freeze Tag anymore. They asked her what it was like to hear her father scream, or how did she feel knowing that the scary man could turn around and find her at any second?

“You were in the chair, right?” they’d ask. “Quiet as a mouse, but he still could have seen you, couldn’t he, if he had just turned and looked? If he had stopped chopping at your dad’s face for long enough? If he had taken a breather from stomping through your house, his feet echoing on the hardwood floors, as he called for your mother in that creepy voice? What if he had seen you?”

Mia didn’t answer. She didn’t have to answer anything, her aunt told her, not even to the police, unless she wanted to. Being a survivor gives you certain privileges, her aunt said, and keeping your own council is one of them. They lived together now, and probably always would, unless Mia wandered off on her own and simply disappeared one day. Or fell down a hole in the ground or staggered into barbed wire or ran into the pointed end of somebody’s ice pick several times. You know, however accidents occur.

Or maybe she’d live forever and become an angel like her mother. She hadn’t believed in angels before, but suddenly she needed to, desperately. She needed to think of her parents floating around in unearthly white with thick, beautiful wings, instead of how she saw them last. Parts of her father. The crumpled sack of her mother, still wearing her prettiest shoes. She always joked that she wanted to be buried in those shoes, but the police had kept custody of them. She was buried in a new, stiff pair instead.

Her aunt never let her come home, saying that the house had been irrevocably changed by what had happened. “It isn’t your home anymore, Mia,” she said, her fingers fluttering to fix Mia’s perfectly straight hairbow. “It’s become something else. It’s become…” Mia could tell she was going to say the “Murder House, but she took in Mia’s dark eyes and changed her wording.

“…more like a memorial,” she said, but Mia knew what her aunt was thinking. Yes, the Murder House. Something ghoulish and sensational and carnivorous.

But today, Mia had slipped away and let herself into her home. She still wore her house key on a chain around her neck. The carpets had been cleaned, the couch was removed, and the walls had been scrubbed and coated with fresh paint.

She walked past the bathroom where (the man had washed his red, red hands) she had carefully brushed her hair before bed. Past her room, decorated with (bloody handprints and DNA) carousel horses and stuffed animals. She hovered briefly in the doorway of her parent’s bedroom, and then padded gently to the reading chair in the corner. She sat on it gingerly and pulled her legs up beneath her.

She had been reading a book that night. The Secret Garden. Her parents had both assured her that she would love it. She had been deep in a world of English roses and creeping vines when everything had happened. Then suddenly the room was noise and heat and that strange, warm smell, red roses and red satins and red everything that streaked across the curtains and wall.

The man was a stranger, someone she didn’t know, but as she stared at the eerily mechanical movements of his chop-chop-chopping arm, he turned and looked at her directly. His face was expressionless, blank, but his eyes burned black and began to smoke.

He pointed at her, pointed to his own temple, and put his finger to his lips. Black oil leaked from his eyes and ran down his face and neck. He put his finger to his lips again, insistently, and Mia nodded. The man looked satisfied and turned back to what was left of her father.

She hadn’t spoken a word since that night. Not a single sound. When her classmates asked her what she would have done if the man had turned to see her, she couldn’t tell them a thing. He had seen her. She had seen him back. They had both looked.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 41

DW_40

Triton’s Curse
Marge Simon

Though banished and beheaded, a godling never dies. Now his face is frozen in a scream of rage. In his teeth, an iron bar barrister. Beside him, mouths drawn back as if still breathing flames, his dragon comrades of the seas. Visitors are struck with awe, so alive appears this sculpture on the rail.

Son of Poseidon, once his name was legion. He ruled the ocean winds. His conch could trumpet hurricanes or becalm merchant ships. It’s said that at the sound, goliaths fled in fear of dark leviathans, such was the power of his horn.

A woman was involved, as women are so often blamed for the folly of both gods and godlings. Some say she was a mermaid, gifted with a Siren’s voice for song. Others claim she was a silkie and half human. They say she walked on land to do her business, was no better than a whore. At any rate, she stole his heart.

Gods do not tolerate such alliances, though allowances were made among their own. Their children had no such right to privilege, and thus the punishment was swift and cruel.

He thinks her body lies within the bricked-in door behind him. He believes she died for love of him, believes he guards her crypt. Surely they would leave him that, but it’s not so. His scaly tail and torso lie within the wall. Her soul became the phosphorous light known only to the denizens of stygian depths.

In a place beyond the myth, she visits him in dreams.


They
Charles Grammlich

They are always watching you—the figures with hollow eyes and hungry teeth. Some look like faces, some like dragons, some like men and some like monsters. They hang on fences, stand in parks, squat on the roofs of cathedrals. They are very still. You never see one move. No human can pay attention long enough to do so. But what about when your head is turned, when your gaze is diverted? Think of that the next time you feel a touch that shouldn’t be there. Think of it when you hear the sounds of life but there is no life in the room but you.

Perhaps you believe the figures are made of steel or stone. They are not. They are a strange flesh, the fruit of alien loins. And they multiply. There are more today than there were yesterday. Tomorrow that total will increase. How many will there be in a year, in ten years? When will they outnumber us? What will happen then?

I know. Don’t you? Don’t lie to yourself. You feel it the same as I do. You recognize the wrongness in them. You shrug it away. You laugh. You call the very thought of it silly. Yet still you shiver in the feral night.  Still you cry out after dreams you cannot ‘quite’ remember. Still you pull the sheets up tight beneath your chin. None of that will save you.

I know exactly how you feel. Do you wonder how? It’s because I’m watching too. Right now.


Sanctuary
A.F. Stewart

In this world, we still exist.

In the corners, in the shadows, in the icons and the ornamentation. The images the humans created have become our places of refuge. Where we fled when the world changed. When the humans took what was ours, killed our kind.

Once, we were dragons, shapeshifters, worshiped as powerful creatures. We flew amid the clouds, breathed fire and lightning, swam the seas, walked and loved among the humans, even taking their form.

We ruled as gods.

Until our hubris become our undoing.

Pandora seemed so docile, subservient, yet she let our secrets into the world and laughed as we fell from power. One small woman gave the humans the power to destroy us.

Now, though, after millennia, those secrets have been forgotten.

I am Zeus, watching the world from my wrought iron sanctuary. Each day I can feel my strength returning, hear the voices of my fellow dragons. We are angry, ready.

And I am tired of hiding.

It is time for the dragons to rise and reclaim what is ours.

It is time for the humans to bow to their gods once more.


Dark Boys for Dark Girls
Mercedes M. Yardley

If he had said,
Let me be the Donnie to your Marie or
the sprinkles to your sundae or
the warm sand under your feet
I would have walked away

But no
He said
Let me be the Hades to your trapped Persephone
the chains that draw your body to the floor of the sea
I’ll be the rope around your neck so when you swing
you won’t swing alone

He said
You don’t need trinkets and parties and balloons
You need somebody strong enough to climb into your casket
and close it over us both.


Mixture
Mark Steinwachs

I stand slightly behind the emissary my client sent me and the man leans in closer, drawn to the intense depth of darkness. It’s the only one in my showroom, which is set up as meticulous as the piece itself, the lighting and background designed to mimic a sunny day.

“How did you get the coloring like that? Will it be the same on all your pieces? It’s remarkable,” his voice quiets and his last sentence is almost said to himself even though it’s only the two of us in the room. He inspects the dragon closer.

“It took me years to get the mix correct. The sacrifices I made, but when I got there …well, I would say it’s worth it. And now that he sent you as the down payment I can begin.”

“He didn’t send me with any down payment,” he says and starts to turn.

I grab his head and slam it against the dragon’s ear, the slurp sound of bone and flesh splitting fills the room. I pull back and finish the job. I drag the lifeless body from the room to the basement where I can drain him for my next batch.


A Waited Burden
Lee Andrew Forman

Within the cage rests not a full being, not a complete form of limitless power, only the tip of infernal intent born for destruction. Both head and spine intact are encased in the solid prison. One wonders if thoughts of fire and death still linger within. A life so mighty cannot be so easily undone even in post-severed condition. The lives of all which surround it know nothing other than its ornate appearance. None but myself and few others remain to guard it. The world around it may have grown, but our coven retained its youth, its knowledge. Each day we question when time will wither its unnatural enclosure and free this Earth the burden of life.


The Sky, The Song
Scarlett R. Algee

It’s never not been raining, at least not in my lifetime.

We build up and up, brick and concrete and iron, and every year the city sinks and sinks, the sea gnawing at the land from below, the sky weeping it away from above.

Everyone knows the story, wrought as it is on almost every fence and railing: the scowling god, the snarling beasts. How the god our ancestors worshiped lost his two daughters to the wrath of a spurned siren, who sang them into dragon-like fiends that fled their father’s countenance. How he, mad with grief, gutted the sky with his trident and tore the siren’s voice from her throat.

How the spell-song remained unbroken, the sky did not mend, and the daughters did not return.

It sounds ridiculous, on its face: a legend, a fairy story. And I thought as much myself until the day the package arrived, jagged shards of unearthly metal that gleamed like spilled oil, that I pieced together on my dining table into the shape of a massive three-pronged spear.

Until I read the letter, and learned that sirens have daughters too.

Maybe, at bottom, it’s still just a story. Maybe it’s a stranger’s idea of a prank.

Or maybe the grief of a god can be mended, and skies made whole again, and sisters sung back home.


Drowned
R.J. Meldrum

They huddled together, watching the cracks spread as the waves splintered the wall sheltering them.  The levees had already been overwhelmed, now it was just the wall holding back the ocean.  This was it, the last piece of terra firma, the last piece of land not covered by the rising oceans.  The rich had taken to vast floating palaces, while the poor drowned.  John and the others had sought higher and higher ground until they were at the top of the world.  On top of the peak that people had died to reach, the small group sat, protected only by the wall…and now it was collapsing.  John stood.

“I’m going to die on my feet.”

The others joined him.

Just for an instant there was the sparkle of blue water at the top of the wall, then the mortar gave way and the water consumed them.


Caged
Nina D’Arcangela

Iron mask; unyielding carapace that stifles. Crown of thorns; the lock upon an opaque prison. Eyes blinded; no sight – ebon madness encroaches. Lips shrouded; no utterance escapes. Ears aware; the slush of bodily fluids draining. A hiss heard left then right:
Sissssss… …terrrrrrrr; the sound slithers.

 My guardians keep watch; vestigial, vile.


There’s Always Tomorrow
Lydia Prime

Cursed to an eternity with the most bothersome creatures imaginable, I try to stay my tongue, but their incessant complaining makes me pray for reprieve. Perhaps a building inspector will come to condemn the land we sit upon with bulldozers and wrecking balls that dance until I am finally set free from their infantile chatter.

Good lords, do they whine and mutter constantly. Someone leaned on me! Something just shit on me! Boo-fuckin-hoo, you little twits. Their disgust at these events immediately falls to my ears, “Can you believe the audacity!?” they croon, indignant to their pathetic little cores. Fools! If only they knew who they were speaking to.

I was a sorcerer once, one with great power known for aiding in the conquest of lands further than today’s world remembers. Now, well, what am I? Trapped, that’s what, in this accursed metal tomb by those I’d have considered friends... Friends, what a notion. I should have slaughtered them all and taken their breath as they have ensconced mine.

I wipe away my thoughts as the day draws close to its end. My knight in mismatched orange and blue polyester will soon be here to shelter behind me – his cart of belongings reeking as much as his body. A brief evening’s worth of reprieve from the vapid serpents, his babbling I understand; war, famine, the pang of thirst. I watch as the world winds down only to await the next morning in false death, seeing nothing more than darkness and concrete before me. I’d kill for a new view…

There’s always tomorrow.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

With Eyes Like Fangs

In the holy forest, they hunt their prey by the scent of weakness that bleeds from its pores. With icicle eyes, prism eyes, eyes like cicatrixes, they find the cavern where the weakness lies. Scaled hands and furred ones work spasmodically on weapons. Claws click on steel while in the wet mouths fangs ache with hatred. In a darkling mist, they gather for the kill.

***

In the cavern, the prey stirs awake and lifts her head. A sudden light burns inside her. Through her skin, she sees, and weakness she sheds like a husk. Her mind centers on the forces arrayed against her outside. Her mouth begins a smile; the smile widens until the lips split at the corners and black blood runs.

“Let it begin,” she murmurs.

***

The hunters in the woods see the light flare within the cavern. They stir, restless in rage. And when the prey strides free of its hiding place into the rain, they fall upon her with taloned feet and leathery wings, their throats filled with howls and shrieks.

But the prey is not what they thought. They have been tricked.  Instead of weakness, strength meets their strengths.  Their bodies shatter upon it.  In moments, the clearing before the cave writhes with the dead and the dying.

“Mother!” the bloody ones cry. “Mother!  Do not forsake us!”

***

The ‘she’ looks upon her dying children, and starts to feed while they are fresh. Out in the distant forest, the males begin to call. She hears them even over the crunch of bones. In a moment she will release her own mating cry, will invite the males to join with her at this feast.

Perhaps her next brood will be stronger.

A Room of Frozen Dust

I meet you in Scarborough. The station is packed with passengers waiting for the next train south. Day by day, the ice is creeping over the earth, unimpeded by the swollen sea. It has obliterated whole cities. Across the channel, it encroaches on the highest peaks. Soon it will join glaciers.

I’ve booked the last room in the hotel still open to visitors. In the hallway two maids are finishing their work. One ducks her head as we pass. The other stares. “She’s rude,” I whisper, putting my arm around your shoulders.

Your eyes walk straight though me, avoiding the part that hurts. My hands tremble and the key is difficult. Someone has stripped the room. The telephone has been disconnected. At least the sheets are  clean. We cover the window with my leather coat. We do not talk about the advancing wall of ice.

There is a candle on the dresser. You light the long wick so the flame burns high. It’s hottest at the top you say and hold my  hand over it, laughing when I pull away.

You tell me how your dreams are mashed up inside. Fix me, say your fingers when they come to free my belt. Your hair is pale moonlight. I touch it with a whisper, “Nothing is irrevocable.”

When you feel my fingers on your thigh, you close your eyes.

I wake to a room of frozen dust, a blurred note by the telephone. It is a long way back to the station. I walk past the docks, where all is a shifting curtain of mist. The boats are ghosts on an anthracite sea. Ice spiders come with the fog. They spin pale webs over the street lamps, lambent rainbows on frosted glass.

I wonder if you fear the cold. If you feel it.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Each and Every Part

White gloves peeled away soft bandage. The wound sat fresh across my stomach—a black gash surrounded by wet shades of red and dry purples. It had been sewn, but not with much care. I drank breath in short sips and scanned the green tile walls, the steel-framed hospital bed, the leather straps which bound my limbs.

I struggled to free myself, but escape was not to be accomplished. A deep breath desired inhale, but my lungs would not accept.

“Just keep clam.” I heard the words but they made no sense. Their speaker wore a sack over his head; a stained, white coat hung from his back.

I tried to scream for help, attempted to communicate with anything but frantic eyes, yet my voice fell silent within my throat.

“No, no, you won’t be able to talk,” the voice said, caressing my neck with hard fingers. “Just lie there, nothing else you can do.”

My jaw made attempt to bite his fingers but only managed to gum their latex covers. My teeth had been removed.

I mouthed questions; the sacked head only stared back with its blank, stitched expression.

My captor turned and went to the other side of the room. Metal scraped metal—a search for the right tool. The figure turned back to face me, head tilted. “Take comfort in the fact that none of this is in vain.” The sack lowered close to my ear and whispered, “I’m not going to eat you if that’s what you’re thinking.”

He shrugged and began to draw a line for the next incision. As he bent over I saw a chart of the human body and its organs taped on the wall, much like you’d see in any doctor’s office. But this one had clearly marked prices labeled for each and every part.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Apocalypse Smiling

Our tiny corner of the world ended not with a bang, but with a whisper of words. Ugly words that spread like a plague. It ended with men coming in the night for the innocent, with protests and anger, martial law and border walls. 

It ended with fear.

The strange thing, we saw it coming and let it happen, as if we couldn’t believe the chaos. Sure there were protests, and people speaking out, but most sat back and waited. Until it was too late. Until they were herded and segregated and culled.

I was fourteen.

It was my mother and me back then. We tried to run, like so many. 

And like so many we failed to escape.

They caught us fleeing the city, dozens of groups with the same idea. I remember people running and screaming and the sounds of shots. Of my mother being yanked away by the force of the panicking crowd and her hand slipping from mine. I remember the look of horror on her face as we separated.  

They rounded up the survivors and took them back. I can still see the bodies of the dead lying in the streets as the guards dragged us away. One woman had her head bashed in with rivers of blood flowing from her skull.

I never saw my mother again.

It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s too late.

Our hope died that day.

Some still tried for a while after that, appealed to other places for aid, salvation, anything.

But the rest of the world had enough of us.

No one came to help.

We stand alone now, in a cesspool of hate, other countries turning their backs on us with sanctions and restrictions and closed borders. The government runs everything, food and clothing distribution, medical aid, housing, and it’s all rationed. Except the authorized religion, there’s plenty of that. And no music, books, or art that isn’t approved by them.

Nobody protests anymore, they’re too busy trying to survive. Every citizen belongs to an affiliation, little more than gangs, holed up in apartment blocks or old city sections surviving day to day on their government allotments and defending their territories. Their strength lies in numbers as they manage a meager existence. Sometimes there are wars between factions, but they don’t last long. There is order in their lives, brutal, visceral, but order.

Outside the affiliations, life is different. 

Anarchy reigns out here. It’s home to criminals, crazies, and other nut jobs. We’re always on the move, living in abandoned homes and other buildings, looting for what scraps remain and willing to knife anyone in the back for a morsel of bread or the wrong word. The patrol guards keep the status quo, keep us out of the affiliation zones and from making a mess in their order.

But people still leave their safe, ordered pens. Trying to run from their own existence, escape to a better life, or live dangerously, there are many motivations. I had one. I made a home out here.

Most don’t. Most are only fools. They think they’ll be free, yet there’s nothing here but killers and streets lined with closed shops and empty houses. 

And death.

That’s why I came.

That’s why I love all the fools.

If they’re lucky, the guards will arrest them. If they’re not lucky… 

They’ll meet me.

I’m the shark in the cesspool, the butcher in the chaos.

You see, my old world ended but I’ve grown to like the new one. No one cares if I kill, or if I paint the streets a scarlet red. No one hears the futile screams that echo from the helpless and the foolish.

No one cares what I do anymore.

And I can stand in the rivers of blood with a smile.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Flycatcher

Jolene can’t stop staring at Sissy’s scars.

At least, she assumes they’re scars: four pink half-circle indents in the middle of Sissy’s forehead, like the marks left by dug-in fingernails. And Jolene knows she’s being rude, that it’s horrible of her, but she can’t stop, no matter how bad she feels or how much she tells herself to look away.

When she’d come back to town yesterday, ten years after high school, Jolene had expected something different for her one-time friend. A little house with a neat yard and a white picket fence, maybe. A job as a teacher, or editor of the town paper; Sissy had always been smart that way. A husband somewhere at the very least, since Sissy had easily been the most reserved girl in school, the one who blushed brick-red at the dirty jokes told in the lunch line. But not this. Not a seat in a beat-up rocking chair in a saggy rusting trailer on the outskirts of town, with grimy windows and pressboard walls, sweltering under a lazy ceiling fan. Not Sissy herself, now thin and wan and blushless as if she’s been bled. And certainly not Sissy’s one-year-old son Jimmy, crab-creeping strangely across the dirty floor on all fours, who’s been the subject of Jolene’s gaze almost as much as his mother’s marred forehead.

And if Sissy notices the stare, she doesn’t let on. Just drones on about her ex Tyler, Jimmy’s daddy, whom Jolene barely remembers except as a skinny wispy-bearded boy who’d sucked at playing baseball. About Tyler’s meth habit and how she thinks it’s the cause of Jimmy’s condition, and how the doctors at Vanderbilt think so too, though Sissy’s granny always claims it’s from that brown recluse that bit Sissy in her second trimester, and really, Tyler could’ve been a good daddy if he hadn’t blown himself to hell shake-and-baking crank in his mama’s toolshed, and—

Jolene’s broken out of her daze by little limbs clamping around her neck; Jimmy is so light she hadn’t even noticed him clambering into her lap. But his laugh is gurgling and bright, and it makes Sissy stop talking and smile, the first real emotion that’s touched her bloodless face in an hour.

“How ‘bout that,” she says, pulling up out of her worn recliner and clapping her hands. “He’s awful shy of strangers, but I shoulda known he’d take to you, Jo. You just hold him an’ let me find my phone.”

Jimmy crows as Sissy leaves the room, and nuzzles wetly into Jolene’s neck. His little body is stiff and Jolene embraces him awkwardly, dragging her fingers over his thick blond hair. He smells of sour milk and rot, and Jolene finds herself wondering if this trailer had been Tyler’s meth lab. If he’d worn some kind of rings that would account for Sissy’s scars.

Then Jimmy sinks his teeth into her neck.

Jolene’s shout is strangled. The baby’s grip is strong, and she can feel her skin parting for his teeth, for the deep burn of the bite. Then the pain passes, and she realizes something’s leaking into her from his mouth, something that stings and leaves numbness behind. Spots waver in her vision, but she can’t blink them away. She can’t blink at all.

“That’s enough, now.” Sissy lifts Jimmy from Jolene’s lap and sets him back on the floor. Jolene tries to look up at her, tries to speak, but her eyes won’t move and words won’t come, not even when Sissy puts too many hands under her chin and jerks her head up hard enough to make her neck crack.

“I’m sorry it’s you, Jo.” The curved lines on Sissy’s forehead flare more deeply red and then blink open, staring back, one after the other. “But I am glad you came by. We ain’t had a visitor in a while, an’ Jimmy was gettin’ awful hungry.”

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Waiver

Matt parked the car near the front entrance.

“Well, we’re here.”

Chelsea nodded.

“The famous haunted hotel.”

“Yup, the fake haunted hotel. A fraud about to be exposed.”

“Are you sure about this? You could be destroying peoples’ livelihoods.”

“Won’t be the first time.”

He spoke with a sense of pride.

They headed into the reception and were greeted by a young woman. She confirmed their booking. After she’d taken Matt’s credit card details, she reached below the desk and placed a piece of paper in front of them. This was the famous waiver. It wasn’t terribly impressive. Aside from the gothic header, which added a certain flair, Matt saw it was nothing more than just standard liability boiler-plate. Guests could not hold the hotel responsible for any harm that befell them. Guests had to verify they weren’t suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure or a shopping list of other ailments. Blah, blah, blah.

The receptionist was making a show of getting them to read and sign it. This was the first part of the ‘experience’ promised by the hotel’s owners.

“So, is it true then?” asked Chelsea.

“Oh yes. The Charlotte Springs Hotel is the most haunted hotel in the U.S. That’s been verified. We introduced the waiver five years ago when an elderly gentleman suffered a heart attack after seeing a supernatural vision. He tried to sue us.”

“That’s why we’ve come to stay.”

“We’ve had visitors from as far away as Australia.”

“Do you think we’ll see some ghosts?”

“I hope you won’t be disappointed. The dearly departed don’t come every night, but you might be lucky.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting a guarantee, but it would be nice if they appeared.”

Matt signed the waiver, then passed it to Chelsea who signed. They weren’t a couple, but they pretended to be. It made things easier.

“Your room is number five. The Blue Room. It’s one of the hotspots; lots of guests have had sleepless nights in that room. Lots of sightings.”

Matt picked up the key. It was an old-fashioned iron key; there were no swipe cards in this century-old house, it wouldn’t have suited the ambience. They climbed the creaking wooden stairs to the first floor. The décor was faded, with some of the wallpaper peeling away. The whole place felt worn and unloved. Perhaps this was deliberate, the public didn’t expect to see ghosts in well-maintained, modern establishments.

The Blue Room was actually blue. Pale blue wallpaper, royal blue bedding and a baby blue carpet. It was hideous.

“A bit overdone on the theme,” said Chelsea.

“I think everything is overdone here.”

“I guess they have to make money somehow.”

“Not for much longer.”

The room overlooked the front of the hotel. Matt glanced out the window. It wasn’t as if the town was horrible or rundown. It was just an ordinary small town in an area not renowned for tourist attractions. The hotel was the only place worth visiting. Although Matt considered it a scam, it was clear that a lot of people didn’t. They came to speak to the dead, to find proof of the afterlife or simply for the thrill. They came, spent their money and left.

He fired up his laptop.

“At least they have free Wi-Fi.”

He loaded some bookmarked pages. He read some of the reviews out loud.

“The Charlotte Springs Hotel. So haunted they make you sign a waiver before you can stay. So terrifying you must be crazy to sleep over. A night of creepy noises and supernatural visions. A must-see attraction for anyone interested in the afterlife. Nonsense, all of it.”

“Well, we are here to debunk it.”

“And we will.”

He loaded the hotel’s website.

“Okay, so according to this, there are six rooms. Each room has its own ghost. Very neat, who would have thought the dead were so organized. For example, the White Room has the woman in white. The Red Room has the headless soldier. The Green Room doesn’t have a ghost as such, but apparently guests can look forward to a night of supernatural sobbing and wailing. I won’t recite the whole dreary list, you get the idea.”

“And the Blue Room?”

“The ghost of a child. Reports speak of a small figure, toys moving across the floor. All super-easy to fake.”

“What do you want to do first?”

“Nothing yet. The phenomena only ever appear after dark.”

He checked his watch.

“Three hours to kill. Might as well get some food.”

The hotel restaurant was busy. It was late August, the height of the tourist season. Labor Day would see the number of guests decline. Matt and Chelsea had timed their visit carefully. Matt’s theory was the ‘ghosts’ were more likely to appear when the hotel was full.

Matt glanced around the dining room. Some were normal tourists, but the majority clearly had a spiritual leaning. After ten years of debunking the paranormal he could easily recognize them. These were the people who believed without question in the afterlife, spending their lives crouched over Ouija boards, attending séances and attempting automatic writing.

“I feel sorry for them.”

“Who?”

“The ones who believe. The ones who claim to have found the truth about the afterlife.”

“They seem happy enough.”

“They’re deluded. In all my years of investigating supernatural occurrences, I’m yet to find a single genuine example.”

“What about this hotel? You’re convinced it’s fake. What if it’s not?”

“There’s no life after death.”

“You seem so sure.”

“After ten years investigating, I am.”

“How you do think they do it?”

“Smoke and mirrors. Hidden microphones. Nothing unique.”

“Why do you think they’ve got such a reputation, with such cheap tricks?”

“A proprietor who is a good showman. Look at the waiver, that builds expectations before the guests even get to the room.”

“We’re being manipulated?”

“I’d say so. Guests arrive expecting to see a ghost. They’re told there are ghosts in every room and are made to sign a waiver, implying the visions are so terrifying they might die. That sets up a high probability the guests will see what they want to see. A dummy dressed in a white dress and wig suddenly becomes the ghost of woman abandoned on her wedding night. It’s clever what they’ve done here; I’m guessing it’s twenty percent props and eighty percent the power of suggestion.”

He checked his watch.

“Time to retire. It’ll be dark soon.”

They lay in bed listening to the sounds of the hotel as the guests settled for the night. No doubt some would be having all-night vigils with incense and sage burning. Others, no doubt, had gone to bed, full of trepidation and excitement. Matt, tired after a long drive, fell asleep almost immediately.

He woke when Chelsea grabbed his arm under the blankets. He checked his watch. Two a.m. She was staring at the corner of the room. He looked into the darkness, unable to see anything but shadows. He switched on the bedside light. The figure standing in the corner was so obviously fake Matt had to stifle a laugh. It was the classic kid’s version of a ghost; a figure covered by a sheet with cut-out eyeholes. Matt rolled out of bed.

“I was right, look at that. If we were believers, we would see a terrifying vision of a dead child and not just someone with a sheet over their head.”

A toy car trundled across the wooden floor.

“Radio-controlled.”

He walked over to the figure. It didn’t move. There was a sudden tension in the room.

“Don’t, Matt. It feels wrong.”

Matt ignored her and instead spoke to the figure.

“You’re joking, aren’t you? Is this what I signed the waiver for? Is this what we drove six hours for? Wait until I publish my article. The first sentence will include your name.”

The figure didn’t move. Matt bent forward and stared into the eye holes.

“Well, who do we have here?”

He whipped the sheet away. Underneath there was nothing except a deep, fluid inky blackness. A darkness that almost had the shape of a person. Matt felt coldness emanating from the figure. He stared into the face of the ghost. It giggled, the high sweet laugh of a child. Reality hit Matt, it was real; it had always been real. He felt a crushing pain in his chest and fell to the carpet. The dark shape moved towards Chelsea. Matt’s last coherent thought was that he wished he hadn’t signed the waiver.

 

∼ R.J. Meldrum

© Copyright R.J. Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.