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

Advertisements

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.

 

Milk and Moonshine

She was cursed with a fairness that strangled her. Expectations woven into her dark hair, an openness and roundness to her eyes that filled her with horror. They were too pale, too pure, too winsome to protect her. Terrors poured in while tears poured out. Hate and bile ran through her veins, but when her white skin tore prettily, nothing oozed out but healthy scarlet.

“What is your name?” they asked. Townspeople. Sweet old women. Starry-eyed men, lads whose bones were made of milk and oatmeal.

Pestilence. Famine. Hatred. Murder, she answered, but the words changed inside of her mouth, left her soft, dewy lips like starlight.

“My name is Orva. It means ‘golden one’,” she said aloud, and blushed demurely.

She grew up with a boy name Jorge. His last name meant ‘meadow’, and he was just like a meadow himself, with soft and gentle hands. He caught animals in his traps, whispering sweetly in their ears as he twisted their necks or slit their throats. He skinned them, his beautiful hands slick and red, and this is how he helped feed their village.

“This is for you,” he told her once, as tender as new teens, and handed her a stole of rabbit fur. He wrapped it carefully around her shoulders.

“Thank you,” she said, and smiled charmingly, then tried to slash her wrists on the knife at his belt.  Her eyes merely flicked toward it, instead.

“I’m sorry that I have to use such a thing,” Jorge said. “I hope it doesn’t disgust you.”

She looked him in the eyes and took his hand. For the first and last time in her life, her lips said exactly what was in her heart.

“Jorge, some things need to be. And you’re so tender with them while you do it. I’ve never seen such kindness.”

She saw the light in his eyes, and knew what it meant. Over the years, she never saw it go out.

Orva tried to shriek for help, to scream in rage, but her voice was so dulcet. So small. It tinkled like bells. Charming. Merry. She ran to the elder in town. Told him what she thought of him, of the oppressive ideals and the spin-and-twirl roll that she played. She told him that his mother was a hag and he himself a goat, and she wished he was dead. That they’d die. That the entire village would burn and be pillaged and everybody, including herself, raped and murdered and scattered about in pieces.

The words escaped her cupid bow lips and turned to honey. She heard herself laughing with pure joy. Praising his robe. Musing about the darling shape of the clouds. He patted her cheek and told her to go gather wildflowers in her skirt. To plait them in her hair, like the good girl her Mama had always wished for.

“Wishes sometimes come true,” the elder said knowingly, and something passed across his eyes like clouds. Stardust and magic.

Orva obediently skipped off, and cried the entire way.

Her tears were pearls, and made the town rich. They were sewn into bridal veils and fine dresses that she refused to wear, except that her sweet mouth could make no such refusal.

So fine. So good, the townspeople said as they dressed her. Isn’t she the most magnificent thing? Thoughtful and cheerful and full of beauty.

The flowers made an exquisite crown for an exquisite beauty. She tried to pierce her eyes with the thorns so she wouldn’t see how people looked through her, but she merely fluttered her lashes instead. She took her tender wrist to her mouth, touched it with strong, straight teeth, imaging how it would feel to cut through to the vein, to release herself and let people see what she really looked like inside. Perhaps they could love her for her own kind of beautiful. Perhaps she could be enough.

Her teeth didn’t tear into her skin. She kissed her own wrist, over and over and over. She screamed, and the sound of her joyful singing echoed over the valley.

Starlight. Moonshine. She had girlish love in her eyes, color in her cheeks. Jorge was no longer a boy. He stole soft kisses from her, breathless, far too in love, dangerous. No, Jorge, she said. I don’t want this. You don’t even know who I am. Take that knife on your belt and use it. Place it to my throat. Let me go.

He reached for something at his waist, and her heart filled. Shone. He raised his hands, ran them over her shoulders. Upward. She closed her eyes, white teeth biting at her lips.

“I have something for you,” he said. Slim fingers on her pale neck. Something cold.

The blade.

She hoped the pain would be swift. She prayed it would be sure.

A necklace. Made of precious stones and metal and time and desire. He fastened it around her neck, nervously. Tears ran down her cheeks, wetting his fingers.

“I’ll take care of you,” he said. “Love you always. I’ll feed you on milk and pray to always see the moon shine in your eyes. Will you have me? Will you love me?”

No, no, I don’t know how to love. I’ll poison you with my kisses. Kill our children in my womb with bitterness. It will be despair, and you deserve so much better.  

“I love you,” she whispered, and fingered the necklace she wore. Kissed his lips shyly. Buried her face in his shoulder. He held her so close that she couldn’t breathe.

She glowed. Smiled. Inside, she turned her face to the wall and died.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 35

 

Animals
A.F. Stewart

Always the warm orange glow against the bars. That one cage, when all the rest remain dark. But I don’t get too curious or linger, just dump the slop into the feeding troughs. I don’t know what this place used to be, but these days it’s when the Company keeps the dregs.

The animals.

They used to be human. I know that, but now… Scaly deformed fingers grab at their food, oozing tentacles, and rotting bits I don’t even want to think about. Only the glowing cage seems, well, normal. As normal as those things get, I suppose. Whatever’s in there whispers when I feed it, says thank you, real polite like.

But I’m not fooled. I know what it did to the last guy. He got too curious. First day on the job I put what was left of his remains in the trough. That was warning enough. I’m not ending up as food for the animals.


Mechanism of Question
Lee Andrew Forman

Bare skin and fragile bones—a futile effort at remaining human. The coming flame warms the flesh but not the soul. Dry, cracked layers burn away, allowing soft, pink, infantile cells to feel every degree. The orange glow travels a path of rust and steel, the conductor of its radiant journey. It leads to the blackened seat on which my body rests. Not dead, not alive, but waiting between. Tired eyes roll, reflect the end in their widened centers. The scent of liquified remains speaks for those before me, their agony carried by its rotten, smoldering, odor. It begins against my back. Perhaps my legs as well, but I lost feeling in them long ago. No pain at first, only the restoration of normal body temperature, a euphoric moment of internal balance, a slight release of suffering. That moment flees the rise in energy, replaced by a boiling gut and viscous epidermis running down my rear side. As by body expels its last contents I know the torment will soon be done. Whatever waits, if anything at all, can’t be worse than cruel mortality. Or can it?


Radiance
Scarlett R. Algee

The thump had come from the basement, and so does the heat. You’re sweltering by the time you reach the bottom of the steps, but the vents are all cold except the one in the far corner, the one by the body. It’s the third one this month.

You look up first, to the beam overhead and the snapped cord, then down to bent ligatured neck and shock-splayed limbs. A tiny gash along the jawline draws your attention, making your face sting with recognition. You kneel and grasp the chin–sweat-slick, too warm, slipping in your fingers and making your skin crawl—and turn the head, looking into your own glazed eyes. The corner vent has begun to glow dull red, and the hair, your hair, is starting to singe.

Maybe you should let it. Three times this month, and you keep finding yourself like this. Maybe you should let it burn; maybe that will give you answers. You unbutton your damp collar and run a hand over your razor-nicked face, breathing the acrid stench of crisping hair, and watch your corpse’s fingers twitch and curl.


Husk
Mark Steinwachs

Not looking at the cages doesn’t mean I can’t hear the screams from within, the horrid sound echoes daily amongst the husk of the building they’ve made our home. I’ve never been this close. Death in three cages; slowly eliminating us as our usefulness wanes. One a roaring fire searing the flesh from you, another where the flame laps at you bubbling your skin, the final one a flameless heat made of soot and remains that slowly cooks you. Those sobbing wails are the worst, they’ve haunted my dreams from my first day here.

I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I look at the men watching my comrades in their final moments, their faces pure delight, a reward for a job well done. The butt of the rifle pushes me forward. My last few steps an uncertain certainty.


Critters
Lydia Prime

It aint so bad, sleepin’ under that dang metal roof. Worst part, I hate hearin’ them critters skitter and scratch as they run its length. Pa says it aint nothin’ but ‘coons an squirrels; I ain’t never seen a masked-bandit that big, nor no tree-rat that heavy. Would be less unsettlin’ if they would chitter or growl, but they fight silent in the dark. I woke to heavy scrappin’ that night only to see the side wall pieced by a ragged claw; it was peeling the far side of the roof like a sardine can. Pa said it was my magination, and that I better get my ass back in bed ‘fore I catch a whoopin’ when I ran to him. I’d rather face the monster squirrels than Pa when he’s in one’a his booze moods. So I climbed back inta bed, that’s when I saw the light leaking in further than b’fore. I know I shoulda been good an’ gone to sleep, but for the life a me, I couldn’t shake the feelin’ something was comin’. When I saw that muddy eye lookin’ through the tear, I knew they was here, and no amount a hiddin’ was gonna help.


Misfiring
Nina D’Arcangela

I lay on the ground, the slats above blurring and jittering as he strikes repeatedly. Fists hammering, elbows slamming; a brief glimpse of light appears. He’s relentless. The beating brutal; as brutal as they’ve all been. A crack to the side of the head; I feel wetness. The light glows brighter, warmer, more embracing. I nearly black out, I would black out if it wasn’t for the lines my mind is riding. I count them: one – my jaw crunches under his forearm; two – I realize he isn’t going to stop this time; three – I let myself drift on waves of pain; four – I focus on the glow; five – is someone coming to welcome me home, or are my neurons misfiring from the assault on my skull? Either way, my suffering ends.

 

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

A Damned Halloween

Twilight Whispers
A.F. Stewart

The clouds hung the sky in muted grey, settling low to meld with the horizon. The gloom of dusk stole the last burnished rays of sunset and crept up to meet the clouds. The air spread a leaden cast, a hint of dampness clinging to a vigorous wind.

From the old burial ground, with its sunken earth and broken gravestones, came a scratching, rasping, slithering sound. A noise of crawlers and claws, of burrowing and hiss. Dirt bulged and ground erupted, in a spray of grime and worms.

And momentary silence.

To be broken by skittering whispers.

Death is coming…


Little Reaper
Scarlett R. Algee

On the street where Death lives, there are no trick-or-treaters.

Not that Death minds. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac these days, populated by single middle-aged professionals and elderly couples whose grandchildren only visit infrequently, where the only indiscretions are the ones left on the lawn by a neighbor’s dog. Around here, he can practically walk to work every day.

No kids, no teenagers, no police calls for meth labs or midnight shouting matches, and no little candy-grubbing costumed visitors on Halloween.

Oh, Halloween. Death sits back in his recliner, watching SportsCenter with the sound off, and smiles his long-toothed skeleton’s grin. Visitors or not, it’s the one day he doesn’t have to wear a mortal-seeming glamour, the one day he can go around in the cowled ‘Grim Reaper’ attire he’s molded from the thoughts and fears of his neighbors, and nobody asks questions. Mr. Reaper is a good neighbor who keeps his leaves raked and his grass trimmed; the other residents on the street will turn a blind eye to the ghoulish appearance, and to the cobwebs and jack o’ lanterns that appear on the front porch. He’s allowed to be eccentric for one day.

(Mr. Reaper. He’s tried telling them all that his first name is McCormick, but no one ever gets the joke.)

At nine PM, Death turns the TV off. He has an appointment with Mrs. Collins next door at eleven, and needs to sharpen his scythe. He admits he’ll miss the tea and cake, and her admiration for his perfectly-cut lawn, but the work has to go on.

At nine-fifteen, there’s a knock on the door.

It gives Death pause. Has someone taken the jack o’ lanterns as an invitation? Did he leave the porch light on? Is there even candy in the house?

(There is, of course. Living among mortals has given him a weakness for chocolate. He goes into the kitchen just in time to hear a second knock, fetches a Snickers bar from the fridge, and slips it into a pocket of his robe. Wonderful mortal invention, pockets.)

Then Death opens the front door and stares down at himself.

The costume’s not an exact likeness. The robe has the slick look of thin polyester, and the blade of the scythe is almost certainly shiny plastic. But the face is arresting: a perfect age-yellowed grinning skull, surrounded by wispy brittle blonde curls that spill out around the black cowl.

A little female Death. He’s slightly taken aback. “Hello,” he says, but she doesn’t answer. Instead she shoves her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket under his nonexistent nose and shakes it. The contents rattle. Death looks down in the glow of the porch light. The little round pail is full of small, flattish white objects.

Bones. He looks closer. Teeth. Teeth and bones, canines and carpals, premolars and phalanges, some bits with flesh still attached, some twinkling with pockets of silver amalgam. Then she taps the blade of her toy scythe against her wrist; she’s wearing a wristwatch, and the sound of blade touching crystal is the clink of steel on glass. The little scythe has begun to glow.

Abruptly, Death understands. “It’s time.”

She pulls the bucket away and nods vehemently, two hard up-and-down bobs of her head.

Death considers. He’s always known this day would come eventually; even avatars of mortality have their limits. Still, he’s become selfishly attached enough to the trappings of the living that he hedges, fumbling in his pocket. “Would you like a candy bar? I promise it’s not fun-sized.”

Skulls are inflexible, as a rule, but the girl cocks her head and squints, then nods again, the same two firm motions. Death reaches out to ease the Snickers into her bucket. He touches the teeth and bones inside, and two of his distal phalanges fall off into the pile. The dissolution’s already started.

Death pulls away before he loses any more. She sets the bucket down primly, and shifts her grip on the glowing scythe. It’s longer now, taller. So is she.

“Wait,” he says.

She watches, silent, expectant.

He gestures around them, at the other houses. “They’re kind sorts, for mortals. Give them kindness back. And keep the grass neat.”

Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.

“Very well.” Death looks down at his small replacement. She’ll grow into it quickly; he had. “Go ahead.”

The scythe lifts, lazily, and swings, and in its wake there’s only a faint shimmer in empty air.

Death pushes her cowl back, shakes her curls loose, and picks up her bucket. She steps across the threshold into the house. Tomorrow she’ll have a word with the neighbors about their pitiful lack of Halloween decorations. They’ll have to do better next year. But first, there’s that appointment with Mrs. Collins. If she hurries, there’s time to bake a cake.

Miss Reaper’s a good neighbor. It’s the least she can do.


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.

Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.

The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.

I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.

My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.


You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman

Hollow pumpkins grinned along the street with flickering eyes. Knocking, knocking, all eve long—the little ghost filled her bag with sugar-treats. Monsters and things long-dead, faces that normally brought fright, didn’t raise her pulse at all. She knew Halloween was the time for horrors that darkness brings.

The street light went out, she found herself alone. At the end of the road, where front stoops had gone cold.

An ebon-skinned fairy came to her side. Smooth, shining, blacker than night, its wings fluttered as it lit on her palm. Fear nearly struck her, but instead, wonder she found. Never had she seen such a beautiful thing.

“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.

It nodded its head and blinked its eyes. Then it took flight, waved its hand in the air. It beckoned her to follow in step, led her deep in the woods, toward a house long abandoned.

Sarah pulled at her costume, tried to remove it—the forest so dark, the cloth made it darker. But the fairy tugged back, insisted she keep it.

It is Halloween after all, she thought, everyone should be in costume.

The hovering creature took her hand, urged her to follow. Pumpkins lit the porch of the old wooden cabin, their soft light warm and inviting. She hopped to the door and on its own it opened; beyond it waited things she never imagined—things strange, never seen, not even in dreams.

Masked creatures came to greet her, some stumbling forth.  Their scent was of old, long-forgotten. She inhaled the pleasant air, let its flavor remind her of what was.

“You can be always,” they said in unison.

She smiled at the thought of endless autumn nights—cool air and colored leaves.

She allowed them to take her into their place, with willing soul and a walk with grace.

“You shall become as you are,” the voices spoke.

The white linen costume tightened around her. She didn’t fight the transformation, rather welcomed it instead. She wanted to be there, better than dead.

As her feet disappeared and she floated as if normal, she peered through the holes of her ghostly exterior, and looked forward to time with her new family—forever.

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

Dreams of a Clean Death

White painted cages. One animal for each. Shaved, stripped, washed, re-clothed. They brought us clean into a den of filth. Irony could be willfully cruel. I wondered the reason; why not let us die? But I remembered people had a knack for keeping alive what should be dead.

We would have perished by choice but they made us live. Willful starvation wasn’t an option—refusal would be penetrated by a clear plastic tube.

We dreamed of death, and it of us. It suffered along, wishing to enter, but the walls of this place, too thick for even it to intrude. On occasion a finger slipped in, on long nights when no one was looking. Most hoped to be chosen, at least those of mind.

Those in the shallow, unmarked soil were the luckiest. The field barely visible, we knew it was there. The quiet place, land without screams; absent of cruelty and electric pain. The lack of names on stone was irrelevant, for all here had already been forgotten.

Others lost their souls, bodies still lingered. Where spirit went, I could only imagine. Maybe they occupied dreams, out of focus objects wailing in distortion behind flittering eyes. Most would call that a haunting; for us—absolute communion.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

The Voices Want Out

Madness.

Am I mad? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe. I should write that down. In crayon? Felt tip marker? A quill pen? No, not a quill pen. I’ll use the pen in my hand. There’s a clean spot on the wall over there.

I scribble my thoughts on the white painted wall, next to yesterday’s thoughts. I step back and smile. I like the pretty squiggles, all blue and curly. I wonder what they mean? I think what I write is language. I know it comes from inside my head. From the voices. It pours out, sometimes English, sometimes other languages, sometimes a strange script I’ve never seen before. No one has seen that writing in a long, long time. I’m not sure how I know that, but I do. My scribbles are all over the house now. On the walls, the floor, the furniture. I even managed to get some on the ceiling in the upstairs bathroom. I don’t remember that, but it is there. Everything has been redecorated in ink: black, blue, green… red.

No, don’t think about the red. Don’t ever think about the red. You might go mad if you think about the red. Must remember. Keep the door closed. Always keep the door closed.

I shut my eyes. When I open them I’m in the hall outside the door. The smell is worse today, but I’m getting used to it. It doesn’t make me gag anymore. My hand trembles. I know what’s going to happen. I start writing on the door. Again.

But it’s not red. The red is on the inside. Always on the inside. I scribble, though, in blue. Blue, blue. Blue like the sky. I haven’t seen the sky in a long time. Is it still blue? Or did it die, like… No, stay away from bad thoughts. Scribble, must scribble. What is it today? Runes I think. Warnings. That’s good. Must never open the door.

I lower the pen. I can hear the scraping now. And the angry whispers. The voices want out. I don’t think they like what I wrote. Too bad. They’re grounded. Locked in the room. While I write. Write everywhere. Wards. Runes. Spells. To keep them here. To keep them with me. Forever. They tried to get in my head. But it didn’t work. I got into theirs instead. I saw. Yes, I did. Now they’re mine.

To replace the red. Or make them pay. I don’t know. Maybe both. I want them back… No, don’t go there. Don’t go into the red. Shells, they’re just shells of what they were. The voices are inside them now.

I stare at the door. At the tattered teddy bear decal on the wood. I remember who used to live there, for a moment. Their little faces, their smiles, their laughs. Before the voices… before the red.

No, no, don’t go into the red. The voices will get out. Mustn’t let them out. Can’t give in. Always keep the door closed. Keep writing, keep warding. Remember, the voices want out. They must, never, ever get out.

~ A. F. Stewart

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

Inhale, Exhale

Over the wind’s howl, you hear yourself breathing.

Your shoulders ache dimly from the strain of your arms pulled behind your back and bound to your stake, but you lost feeling in your hands an hour ago. Your legs are numb up to your knees. The pain in your face has become a mask you wear, dull and stiff; your head is fixed in place, held by your hair, the braid nailed into wood.

You cried when you were lashed here in the twilight, when everyone hurried away, when your mother stroked your hair but wouldn’t look you in the eyes. You stopped crying when you realized the sting down your cheeks was the wind-torn tracks of your tears, freezing to your skin.

There was no fanfare. There never is. Now all you do is blink, and breathe, and wait.

When the first breath of winter skirts across the land, someone has to be sacrificed. It’s the way. Flesh and blood must be traded for a few more weeks of strong sun and clear skies, for a safe end to the late harvest, for a peaceable season bereft of storms. When the gift isn’t given, the crops shatter on the vine, the cattle freeze beneath mounds of snow. It’s always been the way.

You cried at the thought that anyone else could have been chosen. You stopped when you realized there was no reason it shouldn’t be you.

Nothing moves when you try to flex your rope-bound limbs. You drag in a deep breath and something breaks within your nostrils, spilling down your face. You feel nothing, taste nothing; only the slowness of the ooze tells you it’s blood. You open your mouth to breathe out, and there’s merely a muted tingle when your wetted lips rip apart from one another.

Whatever plume your exhalation makes, it’s swallowed by darkness. The gale shifts, tearing at the tatters it’s made of your clothes, curling around and into you like a living thing with breath of its own. The knifing pain frigid air made in your chest at sunset is now only a distant twinge.

You blink. You breathe. It’s becoming difficult. You have the slow cold-glazed thought that you’ll be buried at sunrise, and you’re surprised to find you still have a few tears left.

It had to be you. It always had to be you.

You breathe in.

You breathe out.

You wait.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

%d bloggers like this: