Anniversary

Stepping out of the car, I look up at Lake Euphoria Inn.

Although they’ve spruced up the three story building with a fresh coat of paint, it’s still the same place where my wife and I spent all our anniversaries.

Including our last.

Turning away from the inn, I have no intentions of reliving those memories in the honeymoon suite. Instead my eyes fall upon the path cut into the trees, which leads to Lake Euphoria itself.

It used to be a dirt path with odd root protruding through, but now it’s a well-maintained gravel walkway.

As the gravel crunches beneath my feet it does little to ease the churning acid in my gut. Reaching to the small of my back, I make sure the gun is still tucked into the waistband of my pants. My fingers brush against the grip, reassuring me the pain is almost over.

I continue walking a few more steps, coming to the spot where my life was torn apart.

Looking around the small clearing I can still see my wife sprawled on her back, stomach ripped open, absolute terror permanently etched upon her face.

I had gone back to our room to retrieve the camera that I forgot to grab. On my way back I’d heard her screams, raw and terrified.

And then, silence.

Running as fast as possible, I came upon the thing. It stood knee-deep in the water, my wife’s entrails hanging from its mouth. Wet scales glistened on its body in the afternoon light. The amphibious abomination looked at me and smiled before disappearing under the water.

I shake my head, clearing those images from my mind.

The water laps against the large rocks surrounding Lake Euphoria. Perching myself on one of them near the spot where she died, I remove the gun from my waistband. In the weeks leading up to this day I fantasized about how it would feel. Would I be sad? Fearful? Or even relieved?

No.

Nothing.

Even with the gun in hand and the barrel in my mouth, I’m void of emotion. I’m already dead.

Pulling back on the hammer, I steal one final glance to the lake… and there it is! The fucking thing, its head sticking out of the water, watching me.

I open fire until the gun clicks empty, all my shots missing wide.

It dips below the surface.

Diving in the cold water shocks my system. Where are you goddamn it? Although the lake is murky, there is some visibility. I don’t see it right away but I know it’s there.

My lungs begin to burn.

Something glides past me.

I reach out but grab nothing.

I hear a groan muffled by the water.

My lungs scream. I need air…there it is! Only a few feet away, staring at me with golden fish-like eyes…

…I inhale foul water…

…my body thrashes…

…choking…

…but I can’t look away…

…strength fading…

…lungs full of water…

…drowning…

…it smiles…

…and swims off.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

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Granules

Soft granules shift with each step as I walk the sandy strip. They ease between my toes, slide over my sandaled feet; leave a rim of grit around each nail-bed. A favored place, this swing. During the day, it basks in the full cast of sun’s light; at night, it hides in the coolness of evening’s deepest shadow. A place to laugh, to steal a kiss, perhaps a first touch… Hallowed ground made sacred by whispered promises broken only by those foolish enough to make them.

I sit. The ropes stretch taut, the plank groans beneath me as the swing gently begins to sway. My mind wanders, time passes; my thoughts fill with remembrance of you. The shade of the tree swallows me as day turns to dusk and dusk quickly flees before night. The image of you with another beneath our swing flashes by; my rage no less tempered with time. I kick my sandals aside, dig my toes deep into the soft sand. I reach for you. I know you’re there, you promised you always would be, a promise I saw kept with pickax and spade. The only blight on our perfect evening… the cunt that lies dead beside you, but I can look past that and enjoy our time together, if only in my mind.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

What Love Will Do

The Beast wanted me to bring the bodies in through the front door. On a subconscious level, I always knew why, but my mind wouldn’t wrap itself around the thought. I knew my wife didn’t want to see it; she wanted nothing to do with the Beast.

“Can’t help it,” the body inside the contractor bag quivered as I dragged it across the carpet. “Just part of the gig, babe.”

Julia’s routine had become as systematic as mine: an immediate retreat to whatever room was closest while my stupid jokes fell on deaf ears. I guess I couldn’t blame her.

Over the years, the bodies thudded down into the Beast’s lair step-by-step as our marriage devolved into a nightmare. We bickered, spat at one another, even when the Beast wasn’t around.

She waited for me on the porch one night. I could tell she was pissed without even getting out of the truck.

I rolled down the passenger window, told her that I loved her and that she looked pretty in the moonlight.

She shut me right down. “Yeah, you know you messed up,” she sneered while walking to the door.

“Baby, we’ve been over this a hundred times—”

“We haven’t been over shit. Here’s the new rule, my rule: you bring them poor souls down through the bulkhead from now on or you and that Beast will have to shack up elsewhere.”

Before I could reply, she slammed the door, threw the locks, and turned out the lights.

To my left, the darkness growled.

I opened the cab door and stepped out; the Beast slunk near me, nearly on top of me.

I turned toward the Beast just as the creeping shadows enveloped me. It was a sudden weight of pure evil that suffocated my very existence. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel, couldn’t think. For a moment, I was nothing.

Then I was alone again, standing outside my basement, stunned by the Beast’s unimaginable power. I thought to myself, after all these years, the Beast finally offered me a glimpse of its true nature. I suppose it was good timing. The drifter—the one I picked up that night outside Pittsburgh—put up a hell of a fight and my knee was aching like all hell.

But in the end, just like the rest, he folded. Not without offering the usual pathetic promises; he swore to tell no one if I let him go, begged for safe release, chortled on about having children at home. Then he pissed himself. Now that was a surprise. That level of terror was usually reserved for the Beast.

I swung the metal doors of the bulkhead open, walked back to the truck and dragged the asshole out. That oh-so-familiar thrum buzzed deep inside me; the pain in my leg and fists dissipated. I felt strong, strong and young again when I tossed the squirming body down the concrete steps.

Sometimes they cried out for their mother or father, or even their god. Sometimes they sniveled incoherently. Other times, they just shut up and died. This one hollered like a banshee. The Beast pulsed with excitement and a brilliant fervor rushed through my body.

There’s never a sensation of pain as the Beast rips from my core. I have yet to experience any awareness of my false-skin being shredded to ribbons. That’s when I’m my true self; the one Julia calls the Beast. She’s seen it only once or twice, but has never talked about it.

I’ve tried to pry it out of her. I pushed so hard one time that she took off for her sister’s place in Maine. Before she left, she told me that if I wanted to know what the Beast looked like, I should look in the mirror.

Once I was down in the basement with my latest capture, the Beast took center stage as I watched from behind dulled curtains. Quite the performance. I only remember bits and pieces of the brutal acts. It’s the mess after the standing ovation that sticks with me.

I’m damn sure my steel-toed boots busted every inch of the man’s body. That’s how the Beast likes his meals: tenderized to a pulp.

Once the ruckus ended, Julia came down and offered to mop up; she told me to go upstairs and take a shower. I slunk past, covered in blood and guts, exhausted and naked.

“You still mad?” I muttered.

“I’ll get over it. And so will you.” She shook her head, “Almost forty years of being stuck with you and that Beast. I didn’t think it would take me this long to figure it out, but I have.”

“Figure what out?” I asked.

She glanced at me and stretched her muscles like a feral cat before nodding toward the stairs.

As I was standing in the steaming water, it dawned on me.

The Beast wanted me to bring the bodies through the front door, right through the middle of my life, not to shame me, but to show me.

I am the Beast.

And the Beast is all of us.

~ John Potts Jr

© Copyright John Potts Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Dissections 4

DISSECTIONS 4

 

wolf_rule_full_sat

thievery

he lived to see another day
that poor prick’s heart
still beating within his chest
he’d stolen it with dull blade
a disloyal hand
devoured it;
consumed joyously all his own.

the last remnants not
the crimson dripping from chin
as some would have you believe
but the jackhammer thud
of stolen essence
screaming bloody murder
from between his ribs.

wolf_rule_full_sat

empty, still you try

my bones gleam
my eyes ache
as your unwavering light
searches across my pores.

you curse my resolve
while you continue your
bloodletting—
when will you learn my veins dried
a long time ago.

wolf_rule_full_sat

mercy killing

do you remember that day you shushed me?
silk finger on my lips stilling
my pulse
clouds fell and you
caught them, dabbed
tears from my eyes, stole the
sun’s rays, stabbed them
through my heart.
mercy killing, so was whispered
still i,
i could not talk, not
with your fist down my
windpipe, sweet charm tearing
me apart.
i should have thanked you, admitted
you were never
to blame
still i,
i was the quiet one
and you,
you so insane.

wolf_rule_full_sat

birth

there’s beauty in pain
a sublime blackening
that is incomprehensible to
others unless
it enters the world
with you.

wolf_rule_full_sat

your mother warned you about me

i rode in on the same
pale horse as the reaper
cowl blown from my skull
exposing more than intentions

exposing all you’d hidden within;
exposing all you hid throughout.

 

wolf_rule_full_sat

ashes

i praise you
but do not wear your mark
my soul is darkened; neither of us doubt it

can you appreciate the realness of me?

no amount of supplication will spare me these deeds
and we know it;

my sins not yours to bare.

wolf_rule_full_sat

hollow eyes

she has hollow eyes

she fills them with roses
to keep away the death

she lost her tongue
because the truth cut deep

she is suffering’s whore
but you can’t afford her

she has hollow eyes.

wolf_rule_full_sat

you

in a trick of light i found you
pouring venom from calloused hands
ripping faith from gibbous moon
i’ve loved you ever since.

your cruel grace matched by
even the coldest of gray Januaries and
as the sun died
you spoke to me the foulest nothings
whispered from your alligator snout.

you poured acid in my ears to
quell my methods of thinking when
you knew full well
i had no free will at all.

chant a new song of turpitude
blasphemous act;
i’ll love you ever more.

wolf_rule_full_sat

lone wolf

more than ever i am alone
worn
hungry
my only companion
the moon upon my back.

wolf_rule_full_sat

self-mutilation

i asked why he would sever his hands

one must suffer for the craft,
he explained.

i left him and
the wicker basket that held
the remains of all his digits
went home

and sliced my ears off.

at night i think of him sometimes
his missing hands
but i am in blissful silence
and i can write.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

Abby’s Best Role

When the front window shattered, Abby backed to the center of the den. Terror rattled her nerves. What creature was going to attack this time? A stale breath of January howled into the cabin. Her skin prickled from the frosty chill. Abby picked up the bloody axe and hugged it to her chest.

The broken window stared back at her, a black hole with jagged teeth.

“I’m not going out there!” she yelled. “You’ll have to come in and get me.”

Something ran past the window. A hairy, skeletal blur. She followed its silhouette in the windows as it rounded the cabin then disappeared behind the wall with the fireplace. Above the mantle a mounted buck head stared down at her with glassy eyes. She hated this dusty cabin. She cursed herself for coming out here. No, it’s not your fault, Abby. How could you have known what was waiting for you?

From a side window came hissing laughter. Her spine stiffened at the chinking of more glass. The beast was toying with her. It wanted her to come outside. Well, Abby wasn’t stupid like those bimbos in the movies. She knew not to reach for that rattling door, knew not to explore the woods at night to find what was howling. No. Better to stay put and wait for the monster to come to her.

From outside sounded a thunder of metal being ripped from its hinges. The cellar door. Now the thing was trying to get through the basement. It made a racket below the floor.

Abby gripped her axe and held steady. She didn’t back down from a fight. Mother had raised her to take on every challenge life threw at her. When Abby was a child, Mother had played horror movie after horror movie, teaching her the difference between strong movie heroines who survived and stupid girls who got slaughtered. Mother’s favorite movie, I Spit on Your Grave, played every Friday night in her old VHS player.

“You want make it in Hollywood, Abby? You’ve got to think like Jennifer Hills, who made those bastards pay. You’ve got to be tough like Ellen Ripley, and channel your inner Sarah Connor. No one messes my little star.” Mother had taught her how to defend herself in the cruel, cruel world.

Scraping echoed below Abby’s feet. Then electrical crackles like a pissed-off bug zapper. The lights flickered. Faded to black. Moonlight lanced gray beams through the windows.

Abby backed away from the basement door that concealed a crooked stairway. Her bare feet stepped through lukewarm puddles. Her back ankle brushed against a stiff, clawed hand. She kicked it away. Four mangled bodies lay in bloody heaps across the den floor. There was only one creature left alive. The stairs beyond the door creaked against heavy footfalls charging up the steps.

Abby tightened her grip on the axe.

A body plowed through the bolted door. Wood shards flung across the room in a splintered storm.

The thing, a black lumbering shadow in the moon’s glow, stood at the doorway, heaving. It hobbled towards her, arched like a hunchback. Its dark flesh bristled with spiky fur. Blood oozed from a gash in its thigh. Its head, with curved horns, entered a crossbeam of light, revealing a muzzle with sharp teeth. The beast stopped midway, scanning the lifeless hulks scattered about the room. “You killed my crew, you fucking bitch!”

“They got what was coming to them,” Abby said.

“Christ, we were just making a movie . . .” The creature crept closer, its brow bleeding neon-green blood. “You played along, bitch. You played along!”

“No. I wasn’t acting then. I told you all NO over and over, but you wouldn’t listen.” Her breasts still hurt from all the hands that had groped her. Her lower body ached from all the nasty, nasty things they did to her. She felt dirty inside, violated. Wielding the axe, Abby stood her ground. “Now back off, Beast! Or I’ll chop you up like the rest of ’em.”

Its face sprouted red flaming eyes. “We were only having fun with you. Then you went psycho on us. You got no clue how the movie business works.”

She spoke in her Academy Award winning voice, “I’m not like other actresses. I’ve got a brain. I’ve got talent. I told you I won’t do nasty scenes.”

The creature growled, “I’m going to kill you for this!” It shape-shifted into a six-foot-tall alien. Its skin bruised to a metallic black, sleek and silver-shiny in the nightglow. Drool dripped from four rows of teeth. It raised a long-fingered hand toward her. “I’m going to break your fucking ne―”

She swung the axe, lopped off its hand. Acid shot from its knobby wrist and melted a hole in the floor that opened into the basement. The alien hobbled back, screeching. A long spiny tail ripped out of its back, swooshed, whipping the air, knocking the mounted deer head off the wall.

Anger burning like Ellen Ripley’s in Aliens, Abby charged her assailant, axe held at twelve o’clock. The xenomorph swatted at her with its one remaining hand. Its spear-tipped tail swooped over its head, lashing at her. Air hissed past Abby’s ears as her head dodged the attacking tail. Its elongated head shook wildly, denying her the chance to strike it.

“Not me!” it shrieked. “You won’t get me.” The second set of teeth snapped outward.

Side-stepping its bite, Abby angled around its left, forcing the alien to back into the hall, where its tail had no room to whip at her. It stumbled back over a corpse that had a pumpkin-shaped head, and fell to the floor.

With a maniacal scream, Abby pounced. The axe blade bit into the alien’s chest, severing the breastbone. The creature screamed in agony as it shape-shifted into a man with bulging eyes. The movie director, Jimmy Glick.

In a flash, Abby remembered him taking her to the cabin in the woods where a film crew of four other men had been waiting. They were supposed to be filming a horror movie with her as the lead heroine among a cast of supporting actors. She had been shocked to discover that she was the only actress in the movie. They had given her a drink that made her head feel strange. Then the five men taunted her. They each put on monster masks and did horrible things to her as one man circled with a video camera. While the men tortured her for hours, Abby had closed her eyes and escaped into the movie world inside her mind, drawing strength from Jennifer Hills, Ms. 45, Laurie Strode, and all the heroines who had battled killers and monsters on the silver screen.

Jimmy Glick looked up at her helplessly. Red drool spouted from his lips.

Abby pulled the axe blade out of the bloody furrow. “Never underestimate a woman with talent.”

The director screamed as she brought down the blade again and again and again . . .

When Jimmy was nothing but severed parts, she dropped the axe, her arms shaking with adrenaline. She walked over to a mirror on the wall. Resembling the actress in the movie Carrie, Abby’s blood-soaked reflection smiled back at her and said, You’re going to be a famous movie star, Abby Albright. No matter how much people try to take advantage of you, no matter how much they put you down, YOU are a star. She began clapping and tearing up. “If only the cameras had been rolling on my best performance.”

She hummed as she lined the mantle above the fireplace with severed hands, feet, and various limbs that stood propped up like anatomical sculptures.

Abby stepped back and admired her trophies. “They aren’t Oscars yet, but they’re a start.”

∼ Brian Moreland

© Copyright Brian Moreland. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 23

Ghosts of Judgement Bridge
Brian Moreland

Every October we relive the nightmare. The townsfolk march my three sisters and I to Judgment Bridge. Our hands bound behind our backs, we stand facing the fates of sinners. The angry mob chants, “Suffer the wicked!” Jabbing pitchforks force us to climb onto the rusted railing. Looking down, my sisters and I teeter over roaring river rapids. The hangman places nooses around our necks. Before he reaches Charlotte, she jumps and plunges into the rushing waters. Beside me, Gwen and Sylvie cry. We hold hands as we leap. The ropes snap our necks. We hang forever beside our parents.


Departing Obstruction
Lee A. Forman

Legends spoken in elder tongues told of the barrier. The forbidden land existed beyond. Kell desired secrets, discoveries, things unknown. To touch, feel, see…he’d return a hero. They’d sing of his journey for ages. Knowledge of the world gone would be his to tell. Whatever horrors lied ahead, he’d conquer. He inched with fear over rushing water. But his legs weakened as he reached the midpoint; body thinned, skin withered. The air smelled of death. He tried to withdraw but the barrier obstructed return. A throaty howl escaped unheard, as ravenous beasts of ebon flesh appeared from behind the trees…


Honor
Mark Steinwachs

I place my hands on the bridge and lay down, nestling my head into the rounded gap of steel.

There’s only one of us in the family each generation and as is tradition, I don’t know who follows me. My time is over and only they choose whether to reveal themselves. I will be their first hit as my uncle was mine.

“Thank you,” says a sweet female voice, one I’ve known since she was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

In the silent morning the click of the safety sounds as loud as the gunshot that will soon follow.


Safe
Christopher A. Liccardi

Rusted girders ached under her weight. Centuries passed since anyone ventured out on that bridge. The deepest spot was nearly the length across to the other side; the free side.

She struggled, just a few hundred feet from where she could be safe from all the torment and ridicule. It wouldn’t be long before she could get away from the prying eyes always staring, the disdain she’d had to endure for years.

As she reached that spot, the one you couldn’t see from the deck, she dropped his mostly dead body in without so much as a single glance down.


Crossing
Veronica Magenta Nero

Each time I cross cold shivers overcome me. Here you leapt into the brown waters below, your body never found. With toes curling the edge I imagine the impact, the smack against the rippling surface, hard and sharp like plunging into glass. Water is a cruel and hungry force, capable of painfully wringing the very last gasp of air from tired lungs. I strain my ears against the rush and gurgle of the river, listening, waiting, sometimes your voice rises like a dark bubble from the muddy depths. It breaks before I can make out what you want to say.


Where will you go, Josie May?
John Potts Jr

Back in ’63 the widow Josie May lost her two boys to napalm. Her grief was persistent, heavy. One evening Josie plunged head-first to the shallow creek below Mason Bridge. She suffered a death worse than her sons and the locals coined that spot Widow’s Sorrow ever since.

Those who shared Josie’s pain found a similar fate; some took the dive, some didn’t. But the town never mentioned that when they shut the bridge down for good. Old Josie though, she’s clinging on, and the kids nowadays say Widow’s Sorrow isn’t half as scary as it was made to be.


Just Cut Deep
Jon Olson

You’re holding that razor, comforting and warm. Everything will be better on the other side. Trust me. The pain and anguish you feel now will be but a memory. Don’t you see? Your life’s journey has brought you here. All that is left now is to cross over, the final hurdle represented by this bridge. There is but a simple toll. Just cut deep. That’s all you have to do. Don’t be alarmed by what’s on the other side. It will look bleak only if you want it to. There’s much more so embrace the razor’s cold bite and cross…


Awakened
Joseph A. Pinto

From beneath the bridge, I hear the breaths; a horrid rasping, laden with congestion and rage. Warned I was not to cross this way for what awaits, the rumors told, was of no natural origin.  The sun slowly withdraws from the land as the breaths rise and fall, everywhere and nowhere at once.

Turtle-like, my head withdraws deep into the hollow of my overcoat, bones rattling within my shell.  I should have taken heed, but like all else in my life, it is too late.

Yes, I hear the breaths from a beast awakened, rising and falling with my own.


Ghost Train
A.F. Stewart

The deputy stared at the human-shaped soot stain indelibly smeared into the surface of the rusted bridge. Nearby lay a ratty wallet. “Another one, Clem?”

The sheriff snorted. “Of course, Willie. Full moon last night. Another fool got an eternal ticket on our Ghost Train. It’s a spectral menace. Even ripping up the tracks in ’56 didn’t help.” He bent and examined the wallet. “Shit. It’s Darren’s. You’d think he’d know better.”

“Poor Darren.” Willie shook his head, but inwardly smiled.

He got what he deserved. Best sound in the world listening to him scream over that phantom train whistle.


Mother’s Rage
Nina D’Arcangela

Mother’s milk spills upon all. The transformation– beautiful; horrifically brutal. As she nourishes, she destroys. Silvering, drying, cupping with the wick of her dew.  Molecular bonds shift as she bathes all with rage and gentle tears from above. She corrodes, taints; amends. The surface awash in pained agony transforms to a visage her eye finds most appealing. Underneath, sweet symphony of destruction plays to a finely tuned ear. Warping, twisting, undulating; becoming. Corrosion, chaos, lack of conformity brings justice to the wracked and malformed. Her torrent soothes the hardest with passage of time; her gentle stroke cripples that unnaturally wrought.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

At Peace

The abomination stirred in its crypt as Mortimer chanted the words he’d learned as a child. It was the only thing his mother had given him before she died. She had a son through some form of sorcery or witchcraft. Mortimer had no father because of it. He hated her for that.

The beast lumbered forward on stalks nearly twenty feet high. Its knuckles were jointed backward and it moved like a bat. The body of his new servant was as short as a halfling dangling like a teat between its legs.

“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” Mortimer asked quietly. He was terrified of what he’d just awoken and tried to keep it from his voice. The magic was never his focus, never his passion. That was what his mother loved more than anything else in the world.

“FFEEARR!” it shrieked. The sound echoed off the vaulted ceilings.

“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” He boomed back at the beast. His fingers lay around his mother’s gold chain about his neck. It was hers before she died and it brought this thing to life. He was ready to rip it off and kill this creature if it tried to kill him.

“I ssserveee,” it chittered back.

The thing walked into the light coming from the demon hole in the ceiling. It wanted to be seen, to be felt. It craved the pale glow from above.

Mortimer hadn’t seen it fully until now. The body resembled something almost human with its deformed legs and two muscled little arms. The left limb rotted off over time; shreds of sinew and bone stuck out like a decayed corpse. The right was whole and the little hand gripped a knife made of bone and rotted flesh. Mortimer couldn’t see the face. He thanked the devil himself for at least that small mercy.

“I bid you kill those who oppose me,” Mortimer commanded the creature. The words hung there for a long moment, unanswered. He was about to ask again when the thing lowered itself to the floor. Its legs folded at the knuckles and the little body came to rest on its stunted legs. It began to waddle toward him.

Mortimer’s grip on the chain tightened the slightest bit and the demon stopped.

“Kiiiillllll,” it hissed.

Mortimer could see the melted flesh on its face and body. It was an ancient horror. Its one eye socket was filled with a stinking putrescence of fetid liquid that dripped to the stone floor.

Mortimer watched the hand that held a knife, waiting to see if the demon would attack him. He was scared, but not enough.

The demon’s stench made him gag and he stepped back, trying to find some cleaner air. “Feeedddd!” the thing said in a winging insectile voice and Mortimer stepped back again.

The demon thing waddled closer to him, slowly. Its head lowered. Mortimer knew the terror it inflicted on the living and he smiled at the thought of his victim’s impending demise.

“I have marked those who need to be killed. You can find them if you look. Do you understand?” he asked. The demon lifted its head and stared directly at him.

“Feeeddd,” it said again. It opened its maw revealing three fangs inside a rotting skull. Mortimer could smell its breath and the urge to vomit grew. His gorge climbed in his throat, but he forced himself to choke it back. He would not add to the reek of this place.

“You will feed, demon. You will hunt,” Mortimer said. The demon looked about, swiveling its head from side to side, scenting the air around it. How could it find prey with its own rotting flesh smell pervading everything around it?

“Go and hunt for those who stand in my way and return once you’ve had your fill,” he said. He wanted to turn and walk away but he didn’t think it wise to give this monstrosity such an easy target to start with.

“Dieeeee…” the demon hissed back.

The thing lifted itself back to its full height and waited for a moment, scenting the air again. Mortimer’s hand relaxed from the chain just a bit. He stepped back again, giving the demon space enough to leap away and begin its hunt. He wanted to see it fly off, to be rid of this thing. He had already picked the window he would look out from and listen to the sounds of the creature feeding on its victims.

The beast let out a shriek and began to amble toward him. It lurched forward, leaning its little body into the stride. Mortimer clasped his hands over his ears at the sound, releasing his mother’s chain.

It sprung, landing directly over top of him, and the knife slashed outward in a fury. The first cut took the top of Mortimer’s head off at the scalp, leaving his skull exposed to the moonlight. He began to scream, tasting the blood flowing down his face. The beast returned his scream with another shriek and knocked him onto his back.

The stalk-like legs twisted and its talons drove through his shoulders, pinning him in place. The creature lowered itself once again to the ground and stood on top of Mortimer’s heaving chest. Gouts of blood poured from his skull as the beast settled.

The demon raised the knife again and slashed Mortimer’s throat. It opened veins on both sides of his neck and the screaming stopped. The demon let its rotten tongue lap at the blood welling up in the slit it made. Mortimer’s revulsion hit him again in a wave as he watched the demon lift the knife again and slide the blade under the chain. He tried to move his arms but nothing happened.

The creature lowered itself to a kneeling position, its face dangling inches above Mortimer’s.

“Miineeeee…” it said softly and slashed Mortimer’s head from his body. The gold chain slid down the stump of neck into the pool of blood. The beast dropped the knife and let its little fingers caress the fine gold chain before picking it up.

The demon released Mortimer’s arms, kicking itself free. His body twitched a few times and then stopped. The last of his blood pumped onto the moonlit circle as the creature walked back to the crypt it came from. Tracks of red traced its path back across the cold stone as it righted itself into its resting place and turned to face the light. The mouth in the center of the wrecked face opened and it swallowed the chain. It stuck on one jagged bone tooth for a second, then slipped into the demon’s gut.
“Peaaceee…” it whispered into the tomb.

∼ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christopher A. Liccardi All Rights Reserved.

Carnival

An ink stained night and a canopy of silver stars welcomed the rumble and clank of trucks and the smoking smell of diesel engines. Headlights slithered through the darkness as the line of ramshackle vehicles lumbered onto the fairgrounds and split the silence with belching exhaust fumes and the whine of old gears.

From the shadows I watched, under an old oak tree. My favourite type of tree. It’s a bit like me, a constant in a strange and evolving world. Much like this parade of carnival trucks. Old souls in a world passing them over.

Remnants clinging to hope against death and obscurity.

Perhaps that’s why I come, why I seek out these bits of forgotten eras. Nostalgic indulgence. So much of this world is loud and frantic, full of stress and panic. While I enjoyed those whispers of fear, sometimes I needed quiet reflection. Time to savour the memories, and contemplate my future.

Movement caught my attention, and dispersed my musing. I inhaled the pungent smell of animals and listened to the chatter as the carnies raised their tents and bolted the amusement booths together. I relished the clanging music of the hammers and the hoarse shouts, waiting for it all to blossom into a garish, colour-filled extravaganza. A wonder, this overnight eruption of nomadic fair, this constructed arena of entertainment. Perhaps a bit faded around the edges, or tattered by too many days on the road, but still such a treat.

I love their camaraderie and tradition. So human. So unmindful of the darkness.

I lifted my hand and let the starlight play against the skin. Fingers trembled slightly, a warning. A battering heartbeat fluttered, thumping erratically inside this chest. I sighed. My time was nearly done with this one. Regret mingled with anticipation. A new life about to begin, built on the death of the old one. I’ve worn many guises over my lifetime, been many people. Male, female, child, elderly.

A shame the hosts don’t last longer. Still, we had a good run, he and I.

I let the memory of our first encounter play out in his mind. Two towns west of here, at a harvest fair. The moonlight bathed the amusement rides the night before and the sun rose on a beautiful fall day. I wore a younger skin then; a restless, awkward teenager that accepted his fate too easily.

I never fit that host. I prefer them with more fight.

Perhaps that caused the difficult time in choosing that year; it took me hours to find a new skin. Searching among the rides and games, lingering, appraising, breathing in the smell of cotton candy and funnel cake. A fruitless hunt until I ventured past the noise and wandered near the edge of the carnival grounds. I knew the moment I spied him, he was the one.

Blond, blue-eyed, rugged. A perfect specimen enjoying a smoke behind a tree.

I left my failing host in a surge of black fire and passion, strangely heedless of chance observation. I swarmed him, possessed him, and the touch of his skin sang of salt and sweat. His soul rose to meet my attack in an agony of desperation as I burned through his defenses, but he fell to me as they all do. My invasion pierced through his thoughts and memories, shredded his control, and bound his mind and spirit into my will. He was a cornucopia of terror and defiance, and I feasted on those emotions.

Oh, how I feasted.

He fought until the end, until I boxed him safe and sound, making each moment I destroyed who he was a savoured delicacy. I hadn’t taken a host with such enjoyment in decades, and his agony, fear, and misery kept me gratifyingly fed this past year. I relished living his life, corrupting all he cherished. Listening to him scream from the prison I made for him inside his own body. Feeling his despair as death crept closer with each passing day.

He was special. I’ll miss this face.

I smiled at the memories, dark excitement rising through his borrowed blood. He served me well, my stimulating skin; a flawless mask to hide behind. An ideal life to steal. Yet, I can feel him dissolving, his flesh decaying. He is dying.

Yes, time to move on. Maybe a woman this year…

 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Footprints

Trust in me and I will guide you. I will heal you.”

I feel the words spoken but no one is in the room. Sighing, I put my backpack on the table and walk into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I groan, marveling at the lack of food. I grab one of the cheap beers, the only kind I can afford, and twist off the top, taking a swig.

“Give yourself to me and I will make it better. I will take the hurt from you.”

The words are a breath in my ear. I stopped looking for the being behind the voice long ago.

My movements are automatic. Grab the small pot from the stove, shake out two packets of ramen noodles, down the first beer as they cook, then crack open the second one while eating the sodium-laced soup straight from the pot.

I finish my dinner in the same place I started it then rinse the pot and fork, setting them back on the stove, ready for tomorrow night. The second beer comes with me to the bedroom. It’s a matter of ten steps between the two rooms.

“I am here. I will take the pain you feel.”

There is nothing to pull my attention away from the voice because I have nothing left. The things I used to own? All sold to try and get by. The cheap build-it-yourself dresser wobbles as I set the beer atop it next to the stack of unpaid bills.

Undressing, I toss my clothes on the pile in the corner. I need to do laundry but there isn’t enough money.  I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on, stepping in after steam curls out from behind the curtain. At least I still have hot water to shower with.

The water stings my skin as it cascades over me. Reaching back, I crank the heat up further. My skin reddens and it stands out more where is it stretched taut from the burns. As I close my eyes, the vision comes back, like it always does. The mortar shells raining down around us, trying to avoid something unavoidable until it happens, a sound like the earth itself opening, then nothing but ringing as chaos ensues.

They said it wasn’t my fault but they didn’t live it. They can’t understand it. They didn’t watch their friends burn, trapped inside an overturned Humvee.

“So many have come before you. I await. Accept my invitation and I will make it better.”

The voice has been there since shortly after I got out of the hospital and back home. It happened the day I returned to my church. There was a hero’s welcome, but I didn’t deserve it. I let my friends down. They got a different hero’s welcome when they got home, and I couldn’t be there for any of them. I’ve done my best to make peace though. Maybe one day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven.

That night the voice spoke to me, I freaked out and couldn’t sleep for three days afterward. It didn’t happen much in the beginning—once or twice a week—but it’s become more frequent. It happens at least ten times a day now, it feels like. But I don’t count.

Opening my eyes, I shut the water off and dry myself, then close the bathroom door. I leave the light on; I need a little bit to help me fall asleep—that, plus a few pills. I grab my beer and shuffle to bed, picking up the orange bottle from the floor. I open it and tip three into my hand, gulping them with a shot of beer. My fingers fumble the lid closed and I finish the last dregs of my drink.

I lie down and reach to the floor, picking up the paper I know is there, a poem given to me by our church’s pastor: ‘Footprints.’ He told me that it was written for millions of people before they knew they needed it and that, one day, I would truly accept and understand the words. Only then would my life would be better.

I read the poem as I’ve done every night since I got it, the paper worn and ragged in my hands. I finish and gently set it on the floor, then flip the switch on my lamp. Only a sliver of light streams from the bathroom.

Before I shut my eyes, the voice is there one last time. “Accept me and you will be free. I am your savior.”

I drift as the pills take hold. “Maybe you are,” I mumble. “Maybe you are.”

I dream of those moments, but for the first time it really is a dream, not a nightmare. Their eyes tell me everything. It’s time.

My heart is hammering in my chest when I wake. I know what I must do. I roll out of bed onto my knees. The voice is there immediately. “I am your savior. Accept me and I will guide you from this pain.”

“Yes, yes. Please, yes. You are my savior, I accept.” Answering out loud to the voice only I can hear.

My body shivers as I feel movement behind me. I start to turn but it’s too late. Slender hands grip my head.

“Welcome home,” the all-too-familiar voice whispers. A skeletal finger touches each temple and a searing heat rips through me.

***

I burn inside the Humvee, my skin sloughing off until there is nothing left… and then the moments repeat. For the rest of eternity, my men will watch me.

It is hell, but it is my hell.

And I am saved.

∼Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Walk with Grace

The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.

She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.

Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…

My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.

“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.

Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.

My lips curl into a frown of disdain.

Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.

“I’d be me.”

You’re already you. But you’re also me.

That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.

You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?

“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.

I’m glad we have an understanding.

“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”

Just keep walking.

She says it as if I have a choice.

“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”

What do you think?

“I don’t know why I bother asking.”

I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.

“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”

Their blood tastes better.

“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”

No. I’m starving.

I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…

“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.

If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”

“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”

“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”

“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”

“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”

His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”

As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.

I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.

My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.

Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…

∼Lee A. Forman

© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
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