Damned Words 37

 

Fey
Charles Gramlich

Beneath an icicle sky on a wormwood day of wither, I glimpse her winged form nested in the branches of a tree. A nimbus plays around her hollowed cheeks while the wind spiders in her hair. A saber would be jealous of those desolation eyes. I am smitten.

Day after day I return to her barren temple, to confess my holy secrets, to reveal all my sacred mysteries. No one has ever listened to me the way she does—even to the words I don’t speak. No one else understands. I am besotted.

Late one evening, in a seizure of longing, I beg her to marry me. She unfolds from the tree’s branches like animated origami. Down the trunk she slithers, until she stands before me, sky-clad, shadow-feathered. I swear to be hers forever. She smiles at me with a mouth like a scream. I don’t think she’s an angel.

But neither am I.


Blood Oak
Scarlett R. Algee

There were two humans, once.

There were more, of course. Beneath my canopy I sheltered lovers, threw shadows over children at play, spread my branches for curious climbers. But one night when there was no moon, there were these two beneath me. Male, female, I could never tell. They argued, shouted, shoved. There was a noise and one fell, not rising, and leaked.

The soil around my roots caught the liquid. In it I tasted the richness of the earth: iron, copper, salt. My branches heaved and shivered, breaking out in buds and small, new red leaves. My bark cracked around sudden growth. My creeping, ponderous thoughts grew quick, and in the darkness I felt a warmth like the sun.

I crave that liquid, but no humans have approached me since. They turn away as if my soil has been cursed, as if my leaves bear some blight.

But tonight, there are two again.

They laugh, sway, stare at each other. Anticipation stirs my sap as they sit in the spread of my roots, and my rootlets twitch, reaching up for the surface.

It has been so long, and I am so hungry.


Dead
A.F. Stewart

They buried me here, under the tree. Dug a hole and shoved my body between the roots, stuffed me down like garbage and covered me with soil. I was dead, but I watched every clump of dirt they threw on my corpse. I heard their grunts, panicked whispers and jokes. I watched three boys I had known all my life bury me and prayed it was a nightmare. It wasn’t. I knew then I would make them pay.

I started with Johnny, the ringleader. His smirk was the last thing I saw before I died. The last thing he saw was the rotary blade before it sliced into his face. All it took was a good ghostly shove.

Blake and Ronnie came next, with Blake taking a tumble down some stairs thanks to me. Broke his neck. And one night Ronnie missed Dead Man’s Curve when I yanked the steering wheel nice and hard. They found his corpse in the twisted wreckage of his car two days later.

And the best thing? Those three boys are here with me by the tree for eternity. I can hear their souls screaming from my grave.


The Hunt
Roger Ley

She tried to move quickly through the winter wood but brambles tore at her clothes and legs, her bare feet sank into the wet, black mud, branches clawed down to entangle her. The excited yelping of the hounds spurred her on but the softening ground sucked at every footstep. She fought for breath and tried to muffle the sound of her gasps. Crossing a clearing, she sank calf deep, and could run no further. Looking back, she could see the dim light from the swinging lanterns of the huntsmen, soon they would release the dogs.

She raised her arms above her head in supplication and called to the sky. There was no answer, but her arms and splayed fingers began to stretch and lengthen. Her toes grew, reached into the dark wetness, and gripped the roots and rocks they found down there. She felt her limbs and body stiffen, skin ridged and cracked, thorns sprouted. Sight fading, she heard the dogs as they panted past, their masters slogging after them. Slowly sleep enfolded her, a deep sleep that would last until the spring, and bud burst on the blackthorn she had become.


Rebirth
Mark Steinwachs

The gray sky feels oddly fitting. I try to move again, any part of my body, but I fail, not even a twitch. I’m not sure what drug he injected into my veins but I’m thankful for it now. I think I yelled and begged for release. It’s hard to get a handle on reality.

“You must die to be reborn. Like this tree is born anew each year, you will flourish again,” he says from behind me.

I sense movement and feel a slight pressure against my neck. Warm water? It’s soothing and I start to get tired. My eyes close and I drift off.


When You Are Dead
Mercedes M. Yardley

When you are dead, everything is different.

You don’t cry so much, or perhaps not at all. When you speak, your words are swallowed into the ether without making a sound. When you are dead, the wind lifts you and you billow. Your feet are always at least three feet above the earth.

When you are dead, you are equal with everyone else. All spirits are stripped to their nakedness and their skins shine like stars. You are dead, simply dead, and no death is grander than any other. It does not matter if you were murdered, or slipped in the shower, or took too many pills, or there was a power surge and the machine keeping you alive malfunctioned. Your hands are empty. You don’t keep a hold of the knife or the baby blanket or the noose that hung around your neck. You let these things go.


Stifled
Lee A. Forman

All warned against it, but I could stall curiosity no longer. When I put my palm against its dry flesh the hum of life coursed through me. The air thickened. Not a bird sang in the sky, nor would one land upon the outstretched embrace of its bony fingers. Mystery took its dark form and raced my heart. Regret soaked my clothes.

I briefed understanding—something vile thrived there.

A cream-white vine rose from the soil. The slender, pulsating serpent wrapped itself around me. It squeezed with each sickening pulse of its veiny body. A warm sensation covered my groin. It tightened its hold. Others sprouted around the first and held my limbs. They brought me to the ground, pressing my back against the dirt; the soft earth gave easily. My eyes strained to witness the overcast sky one last time before darkness stifled my existence.


Vena Cava
Nina D’Arcangela

The suck and pull from below is brutal, yet he stands majestic while enduring imminent demise. The alveoli fail to deliver, the lesser bronchioles shed into the spongy gray that surrounds. A greedy bitch, she demands more; a humble supplicant, he offers all. The pulse dwindles: slower this minute than the last, more sluggish than the beat before. She grants no quarter regardless of age or stature. She will exsanguinate until pulmonary collapse, at which point the superior will no longer sustain, taking the inferior with it as a single fused husk.


Judgement
Lydia Prime

“Don’t judge me,” I scream in my drunken stupor. “You don’t know what I’ve been through!” I reach for my bottle of bourbon and start to dig again. Each place I plunge the spade, the ground resists.

“He hurt me in ways you can never know.” I slur my words as I nearly fall, stumbling from the booze and pain. Another swig and I hurl the bottle at the tree. “I left a mark on your trunk, like the marks he left on me!”

The earth below starts to shift, the dirt softening. “Now you understand.”

I finish the plot in no time, dragging his body into the hole. I look around knowing I have to retrieve the bottle before I go – it has my fingerprints on it. I find it near the base of the tree, bending to pick it up. As I do, I notice the ground is softer here, unsteady. I’ve drunk too much and am imagining the dirt moving. Shaking my head, I turn to leave and trip over a tangle of roots. I don’t remember seeing those before… then more sprout.

As I’m dragged under, I swear the tree stands satisfied and smug.

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

 

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Present Problems

It was the night before Christmas and all was still as he crunched through the thin snowfall on his way home from the bus stop. It was so cold that all the moisture seemed to have been frozen out of the atmosphere, the night was so clear that the bright stars seemed three dimensional. He hoped it wasn’t too cold for the occupant of the small box he was carrying.

He was no good at choosing presents. Mildred would always say that she liked them, and then, if it was an item of clothing or jewelry, she wouldn’t wear it. If it was a kitchen gadget, she wouldn’t use it. Pictures he’d chosen had never been hung. He’d found an ornamental bottle opener at the back of a drawer six months after he’d bought it for her birthday, and the incident of the cuckoo clock in the dustbin didn’t bear remembering.

This time he’d tried extra hard. He’d decided to buy her a pet, but as they both worked full-time a dog or a cat was out of the question. The man at the pet shop had told him that rats were very clean and intelligent, but he thought it a risky choice.

“What about a snake?” he’d asked. “They’re not at all slimy as most people think.”

And sure enough the small constrictor had been dry and smooth and well behaved. It seemed quite friendly and hadn’t tried to wrap itself around his neck and strangle him or anything, but he didn’t think it was quite the thing for Mildred. Mice and lizards were too small, and guinea pigs just too boring. No, the tarantula was the obvious choice. Quiet, clean, easy to feed, not too big, not too small, just the thing. He’d bought a plastic box, some sawdust and a pack of unfortunate mealworms to feed to it. He’d hidden them all in the garage. Tonight was Christmas Eve, and he’d picked up the spider at the pet shop as arranged. Did he have a moment of doubt as he looked into the cage and saw the strange array of unblinking eyes, tiny jewels of polished jet looking back at him? No, she’d love it, he was sure she would.

He arrived home, hung up his coat and left the arachnid in its box on the hall stand. Mildred came out of the kitchen and greeted him with a kiss. He knew she loved Christmas. They had a cheery meal of supermarket Moussaka, a generous helping of microwaved sticky toffee pudding, all enhanced by a nice bottle of sweet white wine. Then it was time for the exchange of presents.

“Me first, George, I can’t wait to give you yours.”

He tore open the wrapping paper, a lovely pair of string and leather driving gloves.

“Just the thing,” he said, “we’ve been talking about buying a car. Now it’s your turn.” He went out to the hall and brought in the box. “Close your eyes, put your hands together and hold them out.”

Very gently he tipped the new pet onto her outstretched palms.

“Alright,” he said, “you can open them now.”

Mildred opened her eyes, it took her a moment to focus on the hairy bundle as it slowly began to walk onto her right wrist and up her arm. Her eyes widened, she seemed frozen, speechless. Suddenly she found her voice.

“Oh, George, a Golden Knee Tarantula. How did you know? It’s just what I’ve always wanted.”

∼ Roger Ley

© Copyright Roger Ley. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Living Body

His abdomen split down the middle and opened wide. But still, he held my eyes without expression. No pain, no surprise, no suffering could be read. I stared back, waiting to see what would happen next.

His sweaty frame shuddered and limbs bent at unnatural angles. I could hear bones snap. Organs began to leave his abdominal cavity of their own volition. They spread around the body, stretching, morphing, becoming more than they were intended by nature. My eyes strained to witness the full detail of the event. Strange to watch a man turn inside-out, even stranger to see him alive and unflinching.

His body stopped seizing and he continued to stare. Something in his eyes I couldn’t explain… I only hoped the restraints would hold against his growing mass.

I began to step back. Tendrils of meaty innards began to emerge from the mess that used to be his healthy insides. They extended, wavered in the air as if reaching for me. His neck bent at an odd angle, but his hard eyes kept a fix on me, followed me if I moved.

Regret began to form in the pit of my bowels. Not due to mercy or guilt, but because I might be its first victim. That wasn’t what I had intended.

One of the grotesque appendages evolved a mouth at its end. It opened and sprayed me with a bodily fluid I could not identify. My gut heaved until its contents expelled—it was the most vile smelling thing I’d ever experienced.

The pain in my stomach grew, at first I thought from vomiting, but muscles contracted so hard it felt as though they’d rip apart. Heat spread through me as though I’d caught fire from the inside. The final pull on my tender muscles tore them free of each other, spreading the outer flesh open with them.

A moment of vicious agony, then one of the most serene nature. No pain, no fear, just content.

I watched with calm as my innards transformed, given life of their own, expanding and changing and becoming more than just parts a biological machine. They had life, as if I gave birth to them. They were with me, and I them. I had to care for them, bring them what they needed.

I left the man who gave me this gift strapped down, his children screaming, as I ventured to do what all life is meant to do—procreate.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Sacrifice to the Gods

In the tomb of the gods, the dark soul stirred, the long-dormant bones staring through shadows with hollowed eyes. Someone called its name, spilled blood from a fresh kill upon the stone. In the inky black it waited, as red fluid slowly dripped through the earth. Soon its skull would stain red and it would rise again.

Above ground, shaking in the moonlight, Doug stared at the woman he killed. He watched her blood pool on the ancient carved stone and flow over the edge into the soil. The name he whispered still echoed in his ears.

How did I know that name?

He dropped the knife that slit her throat and it landed with a thud on the dirt. He fell to his knees, tears in his eyes.

Why did I come here? Bring her here? Why did I do it? Adelaide, I’m so sorry.

The blood twisted a path deep into the earth, descending far enough to slither along its bone. It welcomed the sensation, the warm fluid against its skull, human essence giving it life once more. Its bones twitched, a finger moving in spasms. If it still had flesh it would have smiled. The rebirth had begun.

Doug reached out a hand, touching Adelaide’s blood-stained sleeve. He noticed her blood on his clothing as well and withdrew his hand as if it had been burned. His gut churned and he turned away, vomiting on the grass.

“Such a pitiful reaction to death.”

Doug twisted back around, horrified and strangely relieved at the sound of Adelaide’s voice. Her body sat upright, staring at him with bright orange eyes. Her throat no longer gaped with an open wound where he sliced it, but her blouse was still soaked in her blood. Doug shook his head, as if to clear the strange image, but she only sat there staring at him.

He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. “Is this a dream? A nightmare? Oh, baby, tell me you’re still alive.”

“No.” Adelaide’s mouth coiled into a wide grin. “She is dead. Dead so I may be reborn. She is my vessel now. It is an honour for her.”

Doug rocked back and forth, whimpering. “I don’t understand any of this. What’s happening?”

Adelaide’s eyes showed pity. “Of course you don’t understand, human. You are just a pawn, born to achieve my resurrection. It is not your place to understand, only serve. Which you did beautifully.” Adelaide’s hand stroked Doug’s cheek and he sighed at her cold touch. Adelaide’s voice murmured, “You are special. You are mine.”

Doug suddenly pulled away. “I don’t want to be yours! You’re not her! I want my Adelaide!”

“Don’t worry, you will see her again. When I said you were mine, I meant this.”

Adelaide’s mouth stretched wide, into a grotesque maw with three rows of razor-sharp teeth, dripping green ooze. Her hands sprouted claws that slashed Doug’s shoulders before she threw him on his back, pinning him to the ground. He screamed and kept screaming as the beast that inhabited Adelaide ripped into his flesh and began to devour him. He survived her shredding teeth and tearing claws for ten minutes before death took him. Only his bones remained when she finished her meal. She wiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand and looked out at the world.

She whispered, “I’m still hungry.”

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2018 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Unto Us a Son Is Given

I wish to say I do not remember clearly, because I am an old man and more than thirty years have passed. But it is sin to lie and I cannot forget, so I will say: I remember, though the memory slay me.

When we saw the flare of light we were in the hills above Bethlehem, Micah and Ishmael and I; it was early autumn, the air just becoming crisp, and the ewes we tended were fat and tempting. Micah had killed a wolf with a stone from his sling; I stood watch while he and Ishmael skinned it.

And the sky caught fire.

I can call it nothing else. A great curtain of green light, bright as the sun, licked up from horizon to zenith in an instant; and in the same instant it coalesced to a single point, sickly and flickering, hovering over the mouth of a cave. We stared, bloody wolf forgotten. Ishmael was young then, and trembled. I trembled; I will not lie.

Then we heard the wings.

There were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, lanky black things with great tattered bat-like wings that blotted out the stars and the strange green light. They hovered over us, and spoke; and their speech was not the speech of men, but a low evil buzz that twisted up words in my mind.

The one you were promised has come. Come. See. We take you.

One of the creatures snatched me up in thin cold hands; it had claws that pierced my robe and pricked my flesh. Then I was lifted; and if others seized Micah and Ishmael I did not see. I saw the ground rush under me, and closed my eyes against the nausea of movement, against the sight of my bearer’s shallow, featureless face.

Then I was set down.

I opened my eyes. I was at the mouth of the cave. The pale green light streamed down, hanging over the opening like a door, made my skin appear leprous in its wake. Then the creature shoved my shoulder with one clawed freezing hand and pushed me through.

Passing through that green glow was like passing through stagnant water: I gagged and retched at its stinking viscosity, and stumbled beyond feeling coated with contagion. Inside was dark except for a far dimmer light; my eyes took a long moment to adjust to the simple oil lamps. I smelled copper, sweat, decay.

And I saw the woman and her child.

She was a young thing, at a closer look, and panting still; the straw between her feet was clotted with copious blood, as though her labor had been precipitous and difficult. An older man, perhaps her husband or father, stood well back from her and raised wild eyes to me, his chin dripping saliva beneath his slack, working mouth. She had the glazed look of the exhausted unto death, and in the whiteness of her face I saw the clean stark lines of the skull beneath, yet through some strength she held the child to her.

Then the woman took the child and laid it in the manger: but the stone trough was lined with raw meat instead of clean straw, and flies buzzed over a butchered lamb in an empty stall. I saw then that the skin of her breast was flayed into fine strands, showing glistening red flesh underneath, and the liquid that dripped from her suckled nipple was not milk but blood.

She spoke in a croaky, breathless whisper: “Behold the son of God.”

Then the child moved: and for the first time I saw its slick black skin, tiny claw-tipped limbs, thin bat wings beginning to unfurl and fan. It gurgled, and its infant mouth showed needle teeth, ringed with tendrils like the barbels of a catfish. They spread out, twisting, tasting the air, perhaps sensing me, and I knew this was not my promised one.

Someone else came into the cave then, slipping effortlessly through the barrier of sick green light and wearing the shape of a man, if a man could be soot black and spider-thin. He was arrayed in tawny silks and bedecked in gold, his face covered below onyx eyes, and he trailed the fragrance of myrrh from the tips of long writhing fingers. He knelt: and as he knelt, his yellow silk veil slipped, and when I saw what lay beneath I ran from the cave screaming.

I screamed until I reached the top of the hill, and there I fell, breathing the sweet cool air, clutching fistfuls of long wholesome grass. Only when I came to myself did I see that the flock had scattered, and that of Ishmael and Micah and the dead wolf there was no sign, save a few tufts of gray fur and a patch of sticky crimson across the grass.

I left the hill country that night, and have not returned. In the thirty years since I have heard that the peculiar babe grew to manhood of a sort, gathered followers and wandered the countryside, preaching a new kingdom and performing strange miracles: giving the lame to walk on ropy tentacle legs, restoring sight to the blind to show them things no man should bear, raising men from the grave to show them crueler forms of death.

I was glad when I heard he had been crucified in Jerusalem. Such a blasphemy should only be put to death. But then I heard the tomb had been found empty three days later, its Roman guards devoured, and I could not be glad for that.

Those who followed him walk still, and they are much changed from men. One I met yesterday, on the road to Beersheba: he said his master had gone to his kingdom, under stone, under sea, to dream a new world and wait for stars to turn. The madman said his king will return to bring his glory.

May it be a glory I do not live to see.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

 

Fear

Tilting my head back I undo the clasp of the invisible collar around my neck. I feel two sets of long, sharp nails remove themselves from the skin of my shoulders and upper back. Bringing my arm over my head I clasp the collar shut and hang it on my bedpost as I do every night.

I run my hands along my neck. There are no physical marks on me. Nothing my friends or family would ever see, but I know they’re there. Twenty nail marks etched into my skin that will not heal for another night, and bruises from the weight of the creatures tugging at my collar.

I turn around and face them. They stand side by side, ebony beings who stare down at me. They look emaciated, their rib cages protruding. They have long, sinewy arms and legs; I shudder knowing I will feel the creatures pierce me again when I wake up. Their faces are dominated by sets of razor sharp teeth that drip with inky saliva whenever they open their mouths. I’ve yet to feel their bite, though I often wonder what would happen if I did.

Fear opens his mouth and his pointed tongue snakes out. I shiver but meet his gaze. I know he is Fear by the only color on his body, amber orbs that are his eyes. I’ve stared him down many a night.

I look to Doubt, his gold eyes glow in the darkened room. He brings his hands up and sneers. He dug deep into me all day and is gloating about it.

Neither emit a sound, the silent monsters who haunt me. They have been with me for years. Gnawing at my being every day, growing inside me until they forced themselves out. Everyone has these creatures in them, but mine reign over me. Control me.

I am not alone. There are others whose demons are just as powerful. There are no support groups, no doctors who can heal us. We are broken. What I’ve learned about mine, I’ve learned on my own.

They look down at me, watching. They are weaker at night when I am alone with my door closed to the world. But they know I cannot leave these four walls without them. They grow stronger each day. They rule in the outside world, but in mine, my room, I can stand up to them. Keep them at bay while I sleep. Dreams are my only safe place.

I walk to the side of my bed, their eyes never leaving my body. They turn in unison, standing guard as I slip under the covers. I turn off the lamp and my last vision is of their bedside vigil.

***

My eyes open to a new day. Fear and Doubt stand exactly as I left them. I push myself out of bed and they flex their taut muscles, their claws extending. I know what must be done. My body trembles inside. Each day I lose more of myself, but I cannot stop it. I reach for my collar and put it around my neck. I turn away, offering myself to them as I clasp it shut.

Closing my eyes I wait to feel them. Ten nails pierce my skin, what little healing happened overnight is erased.

Fear.

He pushes in deeper, tendrils snaking inside my body. As more of him enters me his body shrinks. He is no longer standing over me but now attached to me. Feeding from me. I inhale sharply, choking, as my collar is pulled to one side from his weight.

Waiting. One breath. Two breaths.

Doubt.

He stabs at me. Ten wounds at once. He is swift. Brutal. Taking hold. I gasp and grab the corner of my dresser so I don’t fall over. His tongue flicks my ear as I straighten myself.

They settle in as I open my bedroom door, ready to face the world.

***

Shutting the door to my bedroom I lean against it. I can’t face another day of school, the humiliation, the bullying. I’m done. I can’t fight anymore. I realize there is only one thing left for me. I finally understand what to do. No longer doubting myself, I will give in. I smile, it will all be over soon.

Pushing myself away from the door, my heart races. The weight shifts along my neck as my collar pulls against me when Doubt’s feet hit the ground. His body comes free and I feel his presence behind me.

I turn to face him. He is losing substance, shimmering in my vision.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper through clenched teeth, tears streaming down my face. I slide my hand under my shirt, feeling along my shoulder blade. Once again I smile. Just as I thought, his wounds are gone.

He steps forward and gently lays his hands over mine. Our eyes stay locked. He has been a part of me for so long. His tongue slips out and he kisses my tears away. Then he is gone.

My heart thumps against my chest. Unclasping my collar, I pull it around in front of me. I wait. His finger traces my body as he steps in front of me.

Fear.

My body is shaking but I don’t move. I am no longer crying. My hands quiver, fumbling with the clasp that binds Fear to the collar. Patiently he stands in front of me. I release the clasp and drop the collar to the floor. Fear smiles. It is grotesque and beautiful.

His hands roam over my body, feeling flesh he never has before. He grows as we stand together. Every inch of me is now his. There is only one thing left.

He opens his mouth.

My heart races as I close my eyes. A hundred spikes of pain shoot through me. I scream out in agony and fall to the floor, instinctively curling into the fetal position, rocking.

The door bursts open behind me. I hear my mom yelling asking if I’m all right. I know she is only a few feet from me, but she sounds so far away.

***

I’ve lost count of days, maybe it’s been years. I hear everything that is being said, but my body never responds. I’m trapped. My only reaction is to sob when they give me medication to relax. No one knows why I cry. They don’t understand they are tears of joy for being free.

Inevitably I feel my body slowly twisting into position as the drugs wear off. My tears stop. Those few hours of peace are gone. Once again I return to the hell in which I reside.

Fear is waiting for me.

My body enters his.

I am home.

~ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 36

 

Gentle Caress
Nina D’Arcangela

Her tears fall in gentle caress; the cacophony within grows. Metal screeches and groans as rivets strain; the contortion as abnormal as the abomination itself. Haunting echoes mimic her pain; the moan of a mother forced to witness a great affront. Torn from her body: distorted, punctured, malformed. Mother’s milk tries to soothe that which can never be unwrought.


Reapers
A.F. Stewart

Rusting steel, exhaust, and the roar of engines. That is the world of ancestors left us. The screams of the hopeless and the lingering smell of blood in our noses. Tonight, I stand sentinel atop this makeshift parapet, above tribal bones bleached by time and weather. Each skeleton nailed to the metal with reverence, a sacrifice to Death and warning to would-be enemies.

I wait for the hunters to ride out. Nomads have camped at the far river, and tonight, their blood runs red into the waters. Save for two. They are young and fresh, in the turning years between child and adult. They are ours.

Seven days the boy will hang from our rack until pain becomes his mistress and he is ready to join our ranks. To serve Death. We will sacrifice the girl, her flesh flayed from her bones and her flowing blood replenishing the soil. I will cherish her screams well after Death claims her. I shall hang her skeleton from the north tower, in homage to our god. I long to hear her bones rattle in the wind.

I smile. This is who we are. This is what we have made of our world.


Gasworks
Mercedes M. Yardley

It was a busy park full of people and picnic blankets patchworked together on the hill. When it was sunny, everyone jammed themselves together like boats crowding the dock. They flew kites. They lapped up the rare sunshine. They watched their little ones playing tag with strangers.

It would be joyful, but Cora could see more than others. She could see a person’s life span, could see the vitality draining from them, could see who had fifty more years or ten more days or five more minutes. The people were bags of would-be rotting flesh, smiles peeling back in decay.

There were so many faces, so many draining hour glasses, that it was impossible to focus on just one. So much better than home where one timeline caught her attention, her stares, her focus. He was a small boy with a gap-toothed smile, one precious second running out each time he called her “Mama.”


Arrogance
Mark Steinwachs

“Let that gorgeous sky be a reminder; Mother Nature never worried about you. Your kind barely blipped on her radar. You brought the end on yourselves. Not through her destruction but through your baseness. Humans,” Michael’s voice booms, dripping with loathing. “You eroded yourselves and your punishment is at hand.”

You look up, frantically searching for an escape. Your mind goes to when God unleashed his minions and within those first few moments you knew how wrong humans were… about everything. You’ve watched angels and demons, heroes, villains, and gods from across time and continents display what it means to kill in His name.

Your attempt to survive ends in this insignificant place. The last thing you’ll see; rust-covered metal. The color of human legacy. Boots on grated stairs announce your fate. You turn. Michael, wings spread in glory, arcs his gleaming sword down.


As Yet, Disquiet
Scarlett R. Algee

For as long as we’ve lived in this valley, contending with the things under the earth that would devour us, we’ve had the Machine, and the Machine produces the Sound.

We talk about it in capitals, the Sound, though we don’t hear it; we’ve known it years, decades, longer. Only if you leave the valley will you become aware of its absence, poking into your senses the way you’d prod at the gap from a missing tooth. And when you return, you’ll actually hear it for an instant: your eardrums vibrating with the great low hum, your teeth set on edge, before the Sound slots back into your brain where it belongs. It’s everything that’s safe, this hum we’ve stopped hearing.

Or it was until fifty-seven seconds ago, when the Machine failed.

And already, we can hear something greater than the Sound: the grinding of earth in great jaws, tremoring below our feet.


Extinction
Charles Gramlich

I listen closely. Raw petroleum, pumped fresh from the ground, rumbles through the great pipe overhead. But that sound is always present. I’m in an oil refinery, after all. This is something else, a hollow, echoing throb. My mind offers a descriptor for the sound, one that makes no sense. The descriptor is…ancient.

I shake my head. It’s been a long day. Lifting the wrench I carry, I tap it hard against the pipe. Metal tings on metal, ringing like a bell in a church for sinners. I don’t expect an answer.

I get one.

The pipe booms. Rust powders down. I leap back convulsively. Metal rivets pop. A spray of yellow-black crude whips me across the face. I smell hydrocarbons, organics. Petroleum comes from once living things, like dinosaurs. Everyone knows that. But it’s all extinct now. No life could survive the pressures under which petroleum forms. No normal life.

More rivets explode. A thick stream of sludge nails me where I stand. Something that’s supposed to be dead slips taloned fingers through the breach in the pipe and begins to peel it open. Looks like extinction isn’t quite what it seems.

I hope that’s true for humanity.


Eye to Socket
Lydia Prime

The metallic taste in my mouth was nothing compared to the aroma that surrounded me. The tacky, filth covered walls offered no help in the darkness as I sloshed and fumbled.  Finally, I remembered the lighter hidden in my hip pocket; its tiny glow flickered amber. The rusted enclosure smothered my senses; russet liquid filled the chamber to mid-thigh. A loud rushing filled my ears as the fluid drained revealing small sepia mounds. I reached for one, brought it closer for inspection—breathless and alone, I stared eye to socket with my future.


All that Is
Lee A. Forman

All that is flows through bleeding steel, weathered like old bones left unburied. The drab shell holds fresh sustenance. Its purpose before, I do not know. Different stories, most untrue. I think it doesn’t matter. Only tomorrow, maybe today.

Over the heads in front I see the Waiters. They serve only the few. The many must leave their plates behind and be all that is.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Swept Away

Dwindling twilight; a summer breeze. He hands her a chilled glass of wine. She smiles, thanks him, sips the dry fruity liquid and blushes. He returns the smile, sips from his own glass and looks out over the lapping water of the bay. Taking her hand, her leads her down the steps, across the patio and opens the gate leading to the surf. Slipping off her shoes, she steps through the gate and onto the cooling sand. He follows. Hand in hand they stroll to the water’s edge. Leaning down, he places a chaste kiss upon her forehead, her cheek, her moistened lips. They walk in silence, letting the water caress their ankles.

Rounding the tip of the inlet, the water is much more aggressive, the waves coming ashore with more force. The open ocean lies before them. They’ve always dreamed of sailing away together, escaping the drudgery of day to day life and living as nomads on the sea. They walk for what seems hours, both glasses long since drained, both sets of feet tiring of the sand. She smiles in the moonlight and nods the way they came, indicating they return home. Never one to deny her, he smiles his agreement. They turn, begin the trek back; the tide is coming in. She veers towards the gentler sand; he tightens his grip, holding her in place. She glances up, sure he has misread her cue. His face is shadowed, but seems harder, less indulgent. She tries to pull her hand free; he doesn’t allow it. He draws her further into the water; she tugs back, still believing he is playing. The moonlight slants across his face; she sees no mirth in his smile, but an ugliness she didn’t know existed. She begins to panic; he drags her toward the undertow. Being the stronger swimmer, he doesn’t fear the water at night; he relished the fight of the high tide. She swims only when the sea is calm, terrified of the unseen depths. Waves begin to crash over them; she sputters, he grins. Turning with an iron grip on her wrist, he drags her out into the inky blackness.

Eight days crawl by; he still clutches the swim trunks the police believe he was wearing the night he returned home, unable to find her. The detective sits on the opposing deck chair, tells him there is nothing more they can do. He begs, he weeps; he pleads for them to understand she would never enter the water at night alone. The detective understands, is sympathetic, but must still inform him they are declaring her lost at sea. The only item found thus far is her swimsuit that washed ashore. He identified it himself she reminds him. He is shattered, a broken man, the love of his life lost. The detective apologizes once more and excuses herself. The police presence withdraws from his home, his life, his world. He is the affluent one; there is no reason to suspect foul play. There wasn’t even a life insurance policy to question; she never had one. Playing the part of the grieving widower, he ceremoniously lays her to rest at sea; friends mourn his loss.

Three months later, he sails into port; she waits for him in the lavish bungalow they purchased on the French island of Réunion. They’ve had no contact in the months between. For two estranged lovers, it has been an eternity. They reunite; he pours each a glass of wine; she asks if there was suspicion. He tells her of his hysterics, burying his wife at sea, the long journey to reach the island. She asks again if he was suspected of having a hand in his wife’s death. He laughs as he answers that while he did indeed have exactly that – a hand in his wife’s death – they never suspected a thing. She asks how that could be. He smiles, places his wine on the table and cups her face while reassuring her the plan was flawless. Convincing her older sister to marry him, then gift him her wealth was a stroke of genius; it placed him above reproach and set them up to share a lifetime of extravagance. She’s the one he loves. The wedding; a ruse.

She smiles in return; she’s been swimming these waters for quite a while. She knows which underwater caves have air pockets, and which don’t.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

4089: Croatoan

They thought they’d found it. The miracle ‘cure’. The final solution! I don’t know who’ll get this, but I think it should be sent… Maybe if this makes it further than myself, the next ones – they can be ready.

On March fourteenth the news reported an intergalactic breech. Something, or perhaps even someone, had crash landed somewhere in the vast Atlantic Ocean. They reported that both Americas, Europe, Africa, and even Asia were dispatching search teams. There was so much coverage, everyone was glued to TV’s, phones, watches, holographic sets; whatever could give us updates. Suddenly, on March nineteenth, everything stopped. The teams were no longer mentioned, and all we heard about were celebrity scandals and their bizarre baby naming habits. The world had ignorantly forgotten the events of the days before, just let them go. Conspiracy articles popped up here and there, but nothing concrete. Nothing that seemed to come from anyone who didn’t wear tinfoil as a hat on the regular.

Almost eight months later, Big Pharma came out with a new brand of ‘medicine’. Something none of us had ever seen before. Initially this product was advertised to help alleviate common illnesses; but soon, it did more – much more. The illnesses and diseases Big Pharma made the most money on were being cured, you know, cancer, MS, HIV/AIDs; you name it, the mystery drug stopped it. Inevitably the truth was revealed. Back in March, when all those teams went to find the unidentified fallen object, they found something astounding.

Specifically, we were told that a ‘nonliving organic matter’ had been discovered. Through tests done in labs across the globe, Earth’s top scientists had discovered that when combining the foreign matter with small mammal DNA, it showed incredible healing properties. The only logical next step was to move onto the human populace, so they did. Three months of testing, a little bippity-boppity-boop, and a trademarked-patented-miracle-cure-all was born. Finally, stem cell research results without a stigma, taboo, or debate. We – the human race. Ate. That. Shit. Up.

About a year passed before things got… messy. More than three quarters of the population began to have side effects of pandemic proportions. They would lose memory – most just became unreactive shells of who they used to be. What was happening? Why? Language barriers be damned, the evidence was before us, and unfortunately there was nothing we could do, it was too late.

A final broadcast went out over anything that could receive a transmission: “We are Croatoan. You filthy beings have been deemed to be of lower intelligence through out the galaxy. With permission from the Galactic Order, we sent down our Bio-Weaponry. If left untouched, it would have devastated your puny society over a century in your time. Thank you, from all of us, for making this so very, very easy.”

Here I am, staring into the swirling vortex the Croatoans have opened to take us with them. We don’t have enough left to even try to fight. I hope this message makes it out into the galaxy somehow.

B e w a r e .   C r o a t o a n .

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

 

When You’re Howling

I watched the crazy bastard staggering across the shit-colored wasteland like some post-apocalyptic bindlestiff. He gestured wildly at Heaven and Hell, screaming in some dead language. But a bandana-wrapped poke dangled from the cane over his shoulder. Maybe it held food; I was starving.

A big boulder hid me. The dude walked past. I rose up behind him, cleared my throat. He spun around, and if he’d had a gun he would have shucked it. I had one—a cheap piece of blue-steel crap from before the world went to rot. But I didn’t shoot. The man was ugly as sin. On one side. The left side of his face…squirmed. I didn’t want to look too closely. But the right side was beautiful—uncomfortably beautiful. I looked away.

“I’ll take those goodies,” I told him, gesturing at his poke.

Suddenly calm, he pulled the cane off his shoulder and tapped the bandana-wrapped bindle. “You really don’t want to see inside this,” he said. “Let me offer a cigarette instead.”

I dealt him the nastiest smile in my set. “I’ll have the cigarettes too. But first the bag.”

He shook his head. “You’ve got no reason to believe me. But I’m not here by chance. I came seeking you. To make an end. I see now, though, you deserve more time. That heart’s not quite dead yet. In this bag, there isn’t anything to eat or sell. There’s only destruction.”

I hefted my pistol. “This is real destruction. Brought the world low. Give me the fuckin’ bag.”

“Please,” he said. “For your sake.”

Something about the guy creeped me out. My skin started jumping from more than just the fleas that made my rags their ghetto. But dammit! I was hungry, so hungry. I pressed the gun barrel against his forehead and cocked the hammer. The Devil laughed. Or maybe it was me.

The man sighed, dropped his cane, backed away. I knelt, pulled the knot loose on his bindle. For a moment, I looked in, then began to blubber like a baby. I put the gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger.

Click.

Nothing.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Sympathetic fingers stroked my greasy hair. He didn’t say, “I told you so,” but it was in his gaze when I looked up. That beauty! And that ugliness. I saw now why the left side of his face writhed; maggots crawled there, with human faces.

“Maybe just a little more time?” I asked.

“Sorry. Not now.”

He took my shoulders in his hands, folded and folded me until he dropped me into his bindle and retied the knot. I heard him groan through the walls as he lifted the immense burden on his back and staggered onward.

It wasn’t dark inside the bundle; I so wished it was dark. All the beauty of the world lay defiled before me. All the Love trashed by Hate. Hate looked at me and smiled.

I wanted to run but there was nowhere to go.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

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