Waves and the Darkness

Jeremy promised he would never leave me.  He’d be the only person in my life never to do so. I didn’t know whether I believed him or not, not really, but I liked to think he meant it at the time.

Once he told me he was born with a darkness inside him and didn’t know how to make it go away.  He wanted to hurt things.  He wanted to squeeze necks and break legs. Slash at throats. He told me how he watched the pulse in my neck and kept time with its beating. After he mentioned this, I noticed his eyes would wander to my throat and his breathing would change. I knew he was waiting for something, for my heart to stop or my blood to coagulate inside my veins, if it didn’t spill out of them first. He wanted to press his thumb down on my artery to see what would happen.

It wasn’t ill-feeling. Not really. It wasn’t that he hated. He just wanted to make everybody sorry.

“Sorry for what?” I asked him once.  We were just kids, sitting on the rocks and staring into the ocean.  I had my crying doll with me, back before Jeremy pulled off her head to see what kind of sound she made. I was never able to put her back together, but that was all right. I still had Jeremy.

“I don’t know.  Just sorry.”

He wasn’t dark all the time, and that’s what made the difference. The shadow would come in waves, nearly crushing him under the weight of despair, and then it would ebb out.  He’d be charming and funny.  Happy. This was the Jeremy I knew, the one I enjoyed. It didn’t surprise anybody when we grew up and fell in love. Jeremy and Kat. It’s just how it was always meant to be. That, and nobody else on the island would have anything to do with either of us.

We’d sneak up to the old lighthouse some nights, play tricks on the tourists and plan our future.  We picked out a day to get married, not too far off but far enough, and made lists of the songs that we wanted to dance to after our wedding.

“Hey, Kat. You know I’ll never leave you, right?”

I didn’t say anything.

“We’ll be together always. I promise.”

I smiled, and I swear, it almost felt natural. “I believe you, Jeremy. Really.”

He knew better than that, I could see it in his eyes. But he also knew I was trying, and that’s what mattered.

“I’ll prove it to you. Just wait and see.”

His smile was a beautiful thing. It filled me with hope. Sometimes with terror, deep down, but mostly something that I think was happiness.

“Jer? I love you. I do.”

“I know you do. I love you, too.”

And then Jeremy went dark.  It was worse than usual, worse than I’d ever seen.  He wouldn’t talk to me.  Wouldn’t let me touch him.

A little boy went missing from town and I was too terrified to ask him about it.  Jeremy simply stared at the sea.  It lasted for weeks this time.

“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I begged him the last time that I saw him.  “Why won’t you let me help you?”

“Nobody can help me,” he said.  He wouldn’t even look at me.  I pulled my coat closer, the wind grabbing at my hair and trying to push me from the rocks.

“But we’re getting married in eight days,” I said.  “Can’t you at least try to act happy? Pretend it matters to you?”

He didn’t answer. I turned and ran, tripping over rocks and shells. He’d already left me, just like I was afraid he would.

This is what true loneliness is.

The Coast Guard found Jeremy’s body wedged underneath rocks not far from shore.  He was bloated and discolored but I kissed him anyway. We buried him on what was supposed to be our wedding day. I sat in the church, surrounded by people and flowers, and thought this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

That night, I went dark as well.  The feelings overwhelm me: despair, anger, hatred; and I know they aren’t mine.  I’ll see a couple walking together, looking like they belong with each other, and I want to kill them, rend them apart because they’re happy, and I will never be.

Jeremy won’t let me.  He follows me everywhere now. He’s always prowling for somebody new to hurt.  He smoothes my hair back when I sleep, and threatens everyone around me.  My sister came to visit after his death, and he pushed her from the rocks.  He appeared once in front of my father and caused him to have a heart attack.  I dared to date a man, just once, and my date was killed in a car crash on the way home.  Anybody I talk to becomes his victim.

We’ll be together always. I promise.” Jeremy had said, and I realize now that he truly meant it.  He’s cutting me off from everybody that I know, from everybody that can help me.  He wants me to jump from the same rocks that he did and join him, and I’m afraid that it won’t be much longer before I do. There’s nothing to stay for.

He promised he would never leave me. I should have believed him. For the first time, I truly wish to be left alone.

~ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

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Damned Words 31



Wishes Do Come True
A.F. Stewart

All I wanted was the shiny new tricycle with the ribbons on the handlebars. Just like the one Bobby next door had. So I wished it. At the scary place in woods where I’m not supposed to go. Where the growls and the bad words came out of the ground. Where the trees whispered about blood and mean things. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

I wished for that tricycle. Just like the one Bobby had. And they answered me. Said they’d get me that trike if I did something for them. So I brought them Bobby like they asked. I didn’t know what would happen. He just—just—there was a lot of blood and laughter. Then I ran.

But I swear I didn’t know.

I got my tricycle, though. Bobby’s parents gave me his, after the funeral.


A Little More Red
Jon Olson

Isn’t it magnificent? This is the tricycle I had as a child. Sadly it didn’t always look this good. Much like me it was beaten up… passed around… misused. Unlike me though, this was fixable; a chance to restore my lost childhood. Once all the dents were fixed and rust sanded down, I knew a fresh coat of red would do it wonders. But as I held the brush it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t restore innocence with paint… it needed something else… something special to bring it back. The first one was difficult, not going as smoothly as I had hoped. I was too emotional. Fear, excitement and inexperience will do that. Regardless, with the first brushstroke, the tricycle came alive like never before. The blood breathed new life into it. Too quickly though, my initial supply ran out. I went out, visiting different playgrounds, killing my catch as fast as I could. My remorse faded each time, replaced by building passion to bring back what I had lost. I mean, just look at it… isn’t it magnificent? A little more red and it’ll be done.


Joy
Nina D’Arcangela

I sit here alone waiting, luring them with the glimmer of carnelian shine and faded tassels. I was a boy once; it was a gift given to celebrate my birth – but why celebrate the unwanted Papa reminded me with strap and fist. When it spoke to me, offering escape for a mere favor, how could I resist? The last to feel my pull was a young girl; her screams still echo my mind. It drank with wanton lust, this keeper of my soul; I wept knowing my part.

A glance upward tells me the tenement is mostly asleep, but I see them, eyes that barely clear the sill as they gaze down; a man’s voice in the background slurred and harsh. I pray the child does not come, but they always do. They seek the same escape I once did; they feed the beast which masks its evil in the plaything that keeps me captive. A crescent of light seeps through the darkness as the back door cracks open. The young one stares at me, eyes full of wonder. I cringe knowing the lie I keep; the falsehood of joy I represent.


Innocence
Mark Steinwachs

I set him down, releasing his torso when he reestablishes balance in his tiny gray sneakers. He accepts the rag from me and wipes down his tricycle: seat, frame, spokes, basket, tassels, like I instructed. A boy and his tricycle, innocence personified. Smiling, I rub my eye to dam the tear threatening to form. Not long ago, he could barely pedal. Now he’s outgrown it.

Outgrown his innocence.

How cruel of us, bringing him into this world. We never meant to, of course, but we did. He’s far too aware now. Voicing questions no child should ask.

His mother hopes things will go back to how they were before The Night.

That’s impossible.

He hugs my leg and scampers toward his mother in the house. Gravel crunches under those tiny sneakers, the last time I’ll ever hear it. I can’t stop the tears now, cursing the god who allowed this. We’ve decided. He won’t live in this hell. We won’t abide it. The wind gives a final lethargic sigh. The tassels hang motionless from the handlebars, fitting for what’s coming.


Here Comes the Sun
Lydia Prime

Heavy pattering of rain against the plastic roof stopped. Emerging from her pink and yellow playhouse ready to run, her shadow hesitated but quickly raced after her. As she lurked along the edge of the verdure, gleeful squeals and light splashing caught her ear. Her shadow swiftly moved through the tall grass, leading her closer.

A small boy sat on his tiny red tricycle, his feet stomping through puddles as he giggled. Her shadow appeared in front of him, unphased, he continued. The five-year-old girl nodded and crept silently behind him. Her loose curls and pastel colored dress crusty with brown stains; her petite pale face coated in flakey red blotches. The boy shivered and looked back; a wide smile parted her lips revealing a mouth full of pointed teeth. He cried and screeched for his mother. Without missing a beat she clamped her shark-like jaws tightly around his neck while her shadow held him down. Devouring his tender meat, she left nothing but bones.

His copper infused juice swirled into murky puddles. Her shadow guided her back into the field. Before disappearing into the weedy cover she licked her lips and whispered, “More.”


Once
Mercedes M. Yardly

Jasper was allergic to peanuts and lies and cruelty. As a baby, he waved fat, starfish hands. His mom would dress him in blue and white striped overalls like a tiny conductor.

He had a teddy bear hand puppet with a fireman’s hat. I thought he loved the thing, but he would scream and shake his fists at it, yelling and biting until the fur came off and threads came loose.

“He loved it to death,” his mom exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, but really I knew that it was the only thing he hated. Whenever I came to babysit, I tucked my long hair behind my ear and hid the puppet.

“All gone?” I’d say, and Jasper would smile.

He played on the driveway between our houses. I always made sure to walk behind my truck before pulling out, except for one time.

He lived, if you could call it that. There’s no laughter or hate or anything at all. I dance that puppet in front of his face hoping he’ll scream at it, at me, just one time, because we all know one time is all it takes.


Mine
Scarlet R. Algee

I killed my little brother when I was seven years old.
Ryan had just turned three, and had dogged my steps for days, trying to walk in my shadows, ignoring my scowls. He just loves you, Mom had said, but he’d stolen my old pink tricycle while she just smiled.
I protested. It was pink, with ribboned handlebars and jingling beaded spokes: a trike for a girl, not a boy. But Mom had just said you don’t need it now, you can share, and Ryan had declared it’s mine now and stuck out his tongue.
My throat clogged. My heart tightened. I pushed him down, pink trike and all, onto the train tracks behind our house.
He shrieked when his knees broke open on the gravel, but the long downshifting howl of the oncoming train swallowed his noise. The Norfolk Southern coal-hauler became a huge black blur, its brakes screaming far too late.
I looked away, but something thudded out of the blur and cartwheeled past my legs. The tricycle had crumpled and twisted, beads clinking as one wheel still rotated slowly.
Ryan was right: it wasn’t mine anymore.
My trike had been pink, and this one was red.

The Patient Guise
Lee A. Forman

Alone, it waited. Silent, still, it swallowed patience one lingering moment after another. With each passerby its senses hummed with anticipation—a growing hunger still unsated. Each gave a curious look, but none were tempted. Uncertainty lingered along the paths of its ancient mind as it questioned how well it understood its prey. The form it chose proved effective in the past. Eager younglings once rushed into its deceptive grasp. They’d pedal away from their elders and satisfy its appetite. But the scarcity of its preferred fare imposed a decision—its old hunting ground had to be abandoned. With a tired squeak, its wheels turned in search of a fresh source to nourish its everlasting appetite.


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

 

The Sinister

When will it end?

Struggling to catch my breath, I stop for a moment, hands on my knees. The door to my left is shut, I haven’t been in there yet. Could that be a way out?

It always changes.

“Daadddeee…” My daughter’s voice echoes through the halls, distant and menacing. “Where are you?” She giggles, and my skin crawls. The voice is my daughter’s but the words are not her own.

They belong to the Sinister.

Bursting through the door, it quickly becomes obvious that I’ve misjudged. It’s not the exit but another classroom. Like the others I’ve seen, the desks are overturned, strewn about. The floor’s covered with debris. Even in the dark, I can see the walls are splattered and smeared with gore.

I thought I knew my way around her school after months of dropping her off every morning. For fuck’s sake, the building is essentially one giant corridor with rooms branching off it; how hard could this be?

“Daadddeee… I’m going to find you!”

She’s closer…its closer.

I thought I’d put enough distance between us to buy time. Creeping back to the door I peer out. The corridor is lit only by the flicker of flames burning sporadically within the building. Screams erupt from somewhere mixing with childish laughter.

I dash out into the corridor, avoiding a lick of the flame, continuing my search for the way out.

My daughter said… the Sinister said… there’s a way out, and if I find it, it’ll let us leave.

I slow my pace as the corridor begins to quake.

Oh god, it’s happening again.

Walls crack and splinter while steel beams groan as they rip from their foundation. The ceiling and floor shifts position, altering the layout like a Rubik’s Cube. The horror is indescribable; the confusion maddening.

The Sinister said we can leave; but I doubt it will let us.

I jog toward one of the freshly formed corners and my feet slide out from under me; I slip on the entrails of what looks like one of the school’s administrators. Hitting the floor beside the lifeless torso, I see eyes frozen open in terror, they stare blankly at the ceiling. The lower half is nowhere to be seen.

“Daadddeee… you can’t hide forever!”

Holy fuck she’s…it’s close.

Scrambling back to my feet I continue down the unfamiliar hallway. I don’t know how long it’s been since the nightmare began; the Sinister gave me a head start what seems like ages ago. Here and there I’ve seen other parents as desperate as I am to find their children and make it out.

I’ve also seen some that didn’t make it. What of their kids?

Then all other thoughts are eradicated: I see it.

Barely visible, in the orange dancing glow of the flames, is an Exit sign above a heavy door.

Oh my god, a way out. My heart races.

With a new sense of urgency, I use every ounce of strength to propel myself toward the door.

Almost there…the ceiling shatters above me.

In a deafening crack, ceiling tiles, duct work and dust rain down on me, along with my daughter. I collapse under her and the debris, hitting the floor just a few feet from the exit.

“I found you, Daddy,” she says.

Gripping me with inhuman strength, she flips me onto my back and my heart breaks.

Her arms are gone, ripped out of their sockets and replaced by greyish-pink appendages with six oversize claws protruding from stumpy, inhuman hands. She still has her own legs but has sprouted elongated talons that tear through her tiny Mary Jane’s. Her face is still that of my little girl, but her mouth is permanently etched into an unrelenting grin.

Worst of all; her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes have been torn out leaving empty sockets.

“Baby girl,” my voice cracks with emotion. “The exit is right here.”

“You almost made it, Daddy,” she says and her voice softens. “…almost…”

“It’s right here, honey. Let’s leave… me and you…” Even I don’t believe my words.

The Sinister creeps back into her voice. “But then the fun would end. You don’t want the fun to end, do you, Daddy?”

“What the hell happened here?”

She giggles, digging her talons deep into my chest. I feel them scrape between my ribs.

“Oh, my dear Daddy,” she squats, pressing her full weight into my chest. “You just answered your own question: Hell happened here.” She twists her talons deeper, nearly piercing one of my lungs. “Besides, how can you leave something that’s already everywhere?”

Tossing her head back, she erupts into a shrieking laugh.

∼ Jon Olson

© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

Prey of the Eyeless

Beneath the stars I entered the forest, machete unsheathed. The idea of a gun rejected early in my search. It wasn’t personal enough. I wanted to sever its ability to escape and run my hand over its face—it had no eyes; I wanted to make sure it could see me. I needed it to know it was me who consigned it to death.

I pondered the irony of where the hunt would end. Years I searched to unmask the hidden wretch, my obsession. In that time I encountered many a sinful beast, but none so horrible as the eyeless thing that took my wife. Meryl’s expression held elegance even in shock, as its shiny, coal-dark arm wrapped around her throat and took her forever.

I sought out urban legends, overheard rumors in bar conversations, asked questions no sane person would dare. But none of the things I hunted turned out to be her abductor. I kept notes, made sketches, documented the unknown horrors that live in the wild. Parents tell you monsters aren’t real, but the wisdom of a child knows no suppression.

Would peace come of its destruction? Has it come to the victims of other felled nightmares? Maybe. Either way, I needed my closure.

As I stealthily navigated the woods I felt dreams and nightmares within my grasp, burning cinders of pain and hate. I’d scar my flesh just to be close; die to touch it. My hands trembled, heart pumped excited blood. A grin spread my chapped lips—I was closer than ever before. Every few steps I stopped to listen for movement. It was no ignorant beast I pursued; it was another hunter, just as cunning as myself, if not more.

A rustle to the side caught my breath. It seemed a deliberate tactic; a ruse to draw me in. So I kept still. It was trying to locate me. I waited, and my patience won out. I heard it stalking through the brush and followed silent as the night.

Flashes of Meryl’s terrified eyes drove nails into my heart, but I pulled them out and left them behind. I had to focus on my prey, else I’d become it.

Excitement turned to fear when I felt hot breath against the back of my neck. Somehow it tricked me. Somehow it won. In a last-ditch effort I turned and swung my blade with blind aim, but its slender fingers caught my wrist.

Its black, featureless face moved close to mine. The ebon flesh receded from its skull. From within came rows of pointed teeth. Its entire head snapped like the muzzle of an enraged mongrel. The serrated maw engulfed my skull but the teeth didn’t penetrate, only held firm against my throat. From deep within its gut, a meaty appendage extended and lodged itself in my esophagus. I bit with force, hoping to do whatever damage I could before it killed me. But the flesh was too fibrous; my human teeth did nothing. It shoved itself further into my abdomen, I choked against the thick, sausage-like tube. All I wanted was to scream in pain, to release…anything. But I could only writhe in agony while my chest hitched in a struggle for life.

∼ Lee A. Forman

© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

After Midnight in the Garden

“Under the moonlight, that’s what my momma said.”

Ivy spoke to the night, her fingers digging into damp soil. “It’s when the flowers bloom, Ivy, and the strangest, best things happen when those flowers bloom.” She giggled as a worm crawled out of the upturned earth; she scooped it into her hand. “Why hello, Mr. Worm, come to hear me jabber on about my mother’s wisdom? Because she surely was wise. Least about this garden. That’s why I’m here. Got me a flower that needs blooming.”

Ivy pulled a large brown seed from her pocket and dropped it in the hole she dug, smoothing the dirt back over and burying it. Then she crushed the worm and smushed the blood and gore into the ground covering the seed.

“Sorry about that, Mr. Worm, but every little bit helps.”

She reached back and picked up her small pail, the contents sloshing a bit. She smiled as she poured the liquid over her newly planted seed, watering it with more blood.

“Now we just need a little moonlight, we surely do.” As if on command, the clouds shifted and a sliver of light trickled its way down, dancing its glow over the newly planted seed. Ivy whispered one word: “Grow.”

The ground trembled, and a tiny crack formed. Seconds later, a small red shoot poked its way from the darkness. The plant swelled and expanded, weeks of growth happened in the span of a minute, until a black budded flower emerged.  Its silky petals unfolded, and its stamen began to ooze a musty smelling dark fluid. Ivy held her jar under the blossom and let the thick black nectar drip into her vessel. She was patient, letting the jar fill halfway until the flower drained dry. She pulled the glass container away and watched as the bloom shrivelled and crumbled to dust. A gentle breeze blew the remains away.

Ivy smiled. “Oh yes, this will do.”

She collected her pail—setting the jar inside—and rose to her feet, dusting the debris from her skirt. She walked back to her porch and put her pail on the top step. She took out the jar, staring at the glass as she gently sloshed the thick juice inside. Then Ivy smiled at the decaying corpse of her husband, recently dug from the graveyard.

“Sorry it took so long, honey, but Momma hid the seed well. But don’t you worry. A few drops of this here goo and you’ll be a verified walking zombie in no time.” She leaned over and let the nectar drip from the jar onto her spouse’s lips. “My momma told me not to marry you. Only piece of her wisdom I ever ignored, I should of known she’d be right, but now I got the chance to pay you back for what you did to me.” Ivy giggled as her formerly dead husband fluttered his eyes. “You’re mine now, body and soul. Oh, the things I’m going to do to you, honey. You’ll wish I let you stay dead. You surely will.”

∼ A.F. Stewart

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

Ashes

I open my eyes.

The floor is icy; that’s the first thing I notice. The flagstones are freezing, a leaching cold, and I can feel the warmth of my body seeping into the granite underneath me, though the temperature of the surface itself doesn’t seem to change.

The quiet encroaches on my mind. My breath rasps in my ears, seconded only by the thud of my heartbeat. I’d performed the summoning ritual perfectly. Whatever I’d called out of the void should still be bound here, waiting my command, breathing, gibbering, something audible. Silence is never a good sign.

I try to push myself up. Can I? The stone under my back is a gravity well pulling at my skin, but I strain, getting my shoulders off the floor. The air smells of ash and smoke from burning flesh, my stomach twists. Pressure rises in my throat. I drop back, turn my head to the side, and open my jaw to let out the flow. I spit when I’m empty and sit up fully at last, weak but moving. A final trickle slides from my lips down my shirtfront.

I spare the liquid staining my shirt a glance. It’s black. I keep my eyes on the blotch for a second before I finally look down at my forearms, at the markings there. The glyphs should have faded before I was awake; they’ve always faded before when I’ve tinkered in the void, but now they cover my skin in neat perfect rows, as if they’ve been painted on. I rub my left thumb over my right forearm, but the marks don’t smear. I’m not imagining them, and the realization makes my gut wrench again. This is new. A message? A warning? I can’t read them this time. The knot tightens, rises toward my throat.

I stand unsteadily, wishing I had someone to prop me up. Nothing happens, yet the thought alone should have been enough to bring the creature I’d called forth to my side. I take a few tottery steps out of the quartered and rune inscribed glyph I’d long ago etched into the basement floor. I turn back to see the smeared summoning circle, the scattered ash and salt, for the first time.

It isn’t just broken; it’s empty. I don’t know what I’ve pulled from the void—I never know until I see it—but it’s gone. It’s loose.

I limp up the basement steps, lay my hand on the knob. It rattles in my grasp, the door bowing outward. On the other side, something growls.

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Hell

“Hell. You think you have it all figured out. Fire and brimstone, sinners writhing in agony, cries of the forsaken. You think that’s it, but you’re wrong. You cursed me there when you drove the knife into me because I was different. You cursed me there when you watched me bleed out. You cursed me there in the name of God. I didn’t belong there. Not until your knife pierced my skin. And then I knew hatred. You taught me. As my life slipped away on the grass, as you spit on me, you taught me hate. In that moment, you sent me to Hell.”

My smile melts into a sneer. They lie in their bed, both paralyzed by my touch. His wife screams, but no sound comes out. His eyes are wide, mouth closed. Ten years have taken a toll on him, though my body is the same.

I yank him by his worn collar. “Does she even know?” I toss him into the chair beside the bed. His limp body slouches. “She doesn’t, does she? You never told her.” Roughly I arrange him into a proper sitting position and scoot the chair closer, twisting it so he faces his wife.

I sit on the edge of his bed, our knees almost touching. “Hell is filled with two types of people. Some are like you—they’re the ones writhing in eternal fire.” I lean forward, my lips at his ear. “Physical and mental anguish worse than you can fathom.”

His response is to void his bladder. An acrid smell fills the room.

“Are you scared? Truly scared, maybe for the first time in your life? Now you know how I felt.” I recline back so I can watch the effect my words have on him. His eyes dart around the room, then back to his wife, then to me. “Then there are people like me. You sparked hate in me, more powerful than anything I’d ever felt. When I took my last breath, I didn’t wake up in a fiery pit. No, I landed in a little gray room. That’s where my training began. Where I nearly died again. You made me hate so deeply that I was chosen to thrive in Hell. To live eternally with my hatred, become one with it, use it how I see fit.”

His eyes flicker with false understanding. I laugh. I tip his wife’s chin up. “He thinks he gets it. He doesn’t, but you are beginning to, aren’t you?” I snap my fingers and her terrified shriek fills the room. I let her body spasm on the bed, assaulted by raw emotions, the first real ones she’s ever felt. I snap my fingers again. She stills. Silent screams return.

I turn back to him. “You don’t know real hate, real anger. You are a fool, duped by those you follow. Your life is a lie and now you will bear the fruit of that lie.” I rip open his shirt.

Closing my eyes, I’m back in the little gray room. My teacher tried to break me. Bombarded my body and mind. Intense pain as my skin melted from an atomic blast, slow agony as ebola bled me out, despair as a child breathed her last in my arms. I know them all, and thousands more.

My finger touches his chest, freeing his body enough to tremble. He vibrates through me. I trace the edge of my fingernail down the center of his ribcage. The stench of burnt flesh hits me. I open my eyes and am met with his silent wail. Beautiful agony. A razor-thin line of scorched flesh flares then disappears.

I walk behind him. “This is where he stabbed me first,” I say to his wife as I push my nail next to his left shoulder blade. His body jerks in the chair and I release his scream, a guttural cry of animalistic pain. Flesh drips off him. I growl, “From behind. He’s a coward and he’s going to pay.”

I shove him to the floor and tear his shirt the rest of the way off. With precision I inflict every wound he gave me ten years ago, every cut etched into my being. White heat erodes his skin.

His wife’s eyes, once wide, narrow as he sobs and drools on the bed. I haul him up and reposition him in the chair. “Five in the back,” I say to her. “Seven more in the chest.”

Each cut elicits raspy gasps. His knife drove deep but I barely pierce his flesh. Ten years worth of hate doesn’t need much of an opening to do damage.

I silence him again and sit back on the bed. “And then he did two more things,” I say quietly, my head low. “He spit on me as blood poured from my body. All of that wasn’t enough, though. He bent down and ran the blade across my neck.”

My hands on my knees, I push myself up and glide to the far side of the bed, close to her. “I won’t spit on him, though. I’m not a base creature. Unlike your husband, the murdering coward.”

I look at her and see myself. I place my palm over her heart and press. The physical act mirrors what is already done. I let her husband hear her final breath before I no longer need to keep her bound.

We both know what comes next.

***

She gulps for air, bucking and slamming against the wall of the little gray room. Her head swivels as she takes in her surroundings. A furious yell fills the small space.

I smile. It’s time to begin her training.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 30


Step Settle
Mark Steinwachs

Step. Settle. Step. Settle. The corn sways in the mid-day breeze, its subtle vibrations through the soft ground giving me cover. The hard-packed road would signal my presence and must be avoided. I close in on the barn, and much needed rest. She’s killing us off like we tried to do to her. Mother Nature’s a tough old bitch. Her method is brutal, releasing a previously unknown toxin from the ground that eats through anything. Your last few minutes spent as a writhing, chemical-burned mess, just like we’ve made her for centuries. We learned quickly. The rich live in the sky, the rest of us…. Step. Settle. Step. Settle. I get to the edge of the field, plotting my course. I should be able to make it before she realizes I’m here. Preparing to push off, my foot slips on the soft earth sending shockwaves below. I take off, sprinting toward the barn. Throwing myself toward the stairs, I thud against them. I rip off my shoes, praying I got it in time. Skin melts from my foot as blistering pain lances up my leg. I close my eyes then scream.


Murmurs of the Corn
A.F. Stewart

Angelique heard the whispering voices since childhood. When the wind rustled the corn stalks, when it blew past the woods, the faint words followed.

Tribute for the Harvest. For the Harvest.

She always shivered and then smiled. She knew. She knew she had been chosen. She knew what to do. In the woods, past the far field, there was a spot, the raised flat rock. She brought the offerings: small animals at first, squirrels, rabbits, strays. And then later, she sometimes brought the voices children from school. The neglected ones, ones people didn’t care about. She was careful though, never too many of those. She didn’t want to draw attention.

But always once a year, every harvest season, some kind of tribute. And this year would be no different.

Angelique looked down at her three-year-old son, Jacob. “Mommy wants to show you a special place. Wants you to meet her friends.”

She took him by the hand and led him into the woods.


A Growing Boy
Lee A. Forman

Hunger never left his distended paunch. No matter how much she brought, his gut could not be sated. Spindly arms pulled rotten meat into a foul orifice. Brown saliva and undigested chunks ran down his stained frontside into a puddle of filth. Familiarity still rested in his eyes. They followed her with affection, resting deep behind puss-filled lumps which grew around them. She wondered if he still had legs beneath the mass of pulsating skin at his bottom. But it wouldn’t have mattered. His proportions already filled most of the barn.

She took the sandwich bag of teeth from her pocket and remembered his smile. How sweet and simple he once was.

A low groan erupted from his belly. Tremors of a wanting stomach rumbled under her boots. The fly-infested supply of food nearly depleted, she’d have to find a way to feed her growing boy.


The Food of Screams
Jon Olson

Home, sweet home. Years back when we first moved into the barn, it didn’t have electricity. That would have made everything much easier. You see, peeling someone’s skin off is—oh no you don’t! Don’t do that again! Now where was I? Oh yes, peeling someone’s skin off in candlelight is rather hard on the eyes. You’d think evolution would give my kind better vision in the dark. But then again, evolution probably wants to forget about us monsters. There are six of us altogether before you ask. I provide for the younger ones as – hey, remember what I said about running off? The younger ones have teeth but they aren’t large enough to cut completely through human skin. That’s why I remove it first. You’ll see what I mean when I show them to – OW! Get back here you little bitch! No use hiding in the cornstalks as… there you are!  GOTCHA! For that little escapade, there will be no skinning for you! Go ahead and cry. Oh hell, scream if you’d like. The little ones just love it when their food screams.


Sowing Season
Lydia Prime

Xipe would be pleased; from blood sacrifice the harvest should be safe from seasonal plight. Three friends closely line up behind me, playing follow the leader into the field. They could never have known what I’d planned for their last night. After all this time, my needed action had become enjoyment; a fine pleasure to dismember those who’d come. My sickle, hidden by stalks of corn, caught them off guard by its reveal.

They screamed and cried—even bargained for life. Grinning while their wishes fell on deaf ears, I knew not one would leave this field breathing. Quick slashes scattered their precious pieces, now coated in metallic red. The corn glistened in the moonlight, the blood drenched crop dripped upon the ground. The roots drank ravenously, shattering the night’s silence with a deafening suck. The harvest would be promised. My eyes twinkled while I examined the torn carcasses knowing Xipe’s power was devotedly harnessed.


Whispers
Scarlet R. Algee

It’s midnight, and I can hear the corn talking.

It’s not clear right away. But when I listen like Mama taught me, the voices come out, words in the whisper of silky tassels against my bedroom windows. Words like soon and feed us and hungry, beating in the rhythm of my heart.

I heard it first when I was four, when my dog Buddy disappeared into the fields one night and Mama, urged out to look for him by my tearful pleas, came back in the house after dark and said, “Buddy’s gone, Katrina. He’s gone to help feed the corn.” I didn’t understand how a dog could help, but Mama tucked me into bed beside her that night and the tall stalks thumped the windows, and in their rhythm I thought I heard thank you.

After that, others went away. Chickens. My bunny Nico, my fatherless little brother Billy. The corn grew, flourished, murmured. By then, I understood why.

Now I watch Mama lift my son William from his crib, one more fatherless boy, and I stand ready with the knife in my hand. We need another good harvest.

Hungry, the tassels mutter.

It’s time to feed the corn.


Ribbons
Mercedes M. Yardly

She spent her life in cotton dresses with her hair pulled back by ribbons. There was an ease in her childhood that followed her when she was all knobby knees and laugher, but that ease stopped when she reached adulthood. She began to hear things in the corn, felt things in the barn. Shadows would ooze out and hiss her name, lick her ear, and pull her ribbons out with sharp teeth. She let her hair fall down her back, let her cotton dresses become old and full of holes and fragility. It was easier that way.


Dawning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The corn whispered his name. It was serene, almost fooling him into thinking he’d be okay.

Lying face to the sun, he was fighting off the urge to vomit but the pain wouldn’t take him. It wasn’t enough. The thing he uncovered was ravenous but it let him go. He was sure of that.

A flash of memory from the night before – bone blades slicing, rending flesh; the tongue that lapped at the blood burned like acid. This thing was toying with its dinner. He broke free at first light, dragging his bloody chest through the spider-like corn roots, willing himself not to die in the dooryard of this cursed shit-hole. The thing inside didn’t follow.

Was sunlight the key? Would it matter if he bled out right here in this field? Come fall, the harvester would churn his decayed corpse up and he’d be feeding cows by winter. If he could only make it to the road, maybe he’d have a chance.

A screech pierced the beautiful day, sending terror and piss down his legs. The corn drank it up greedily. He saw the thing braving the sunlight and wept.


It Comes
Nina D’Arcangela

There is an echo far distant but always too near. I look up; multiple bright hues encompass the fathoms I crawl. The between is an inky void; a darkness in which a different symphony calls to me – my blood stirs. I’ve seen others outside the colony. My time to hunt will come, it is promised me; the next cycle is mine. Mother mourns. Her rheumy eyes shift, they will not explain. I spin my vestigial hammock in the dwindling gloom. Uneasy to rest, I drift to her gentle vibrations as they shiver me to slumber under the brightening canopy.

I wake. My mind screams from the cacophony, small hairs vibrate in waves of cruel harmony. Chomping, gnashing teeth approach. They spin and whir, the screech jars me from my gummy cocoon. As I hit the mud, the creature looms over me; my siblings scatter frantically. Mother curls; her legs draw in, the teeth careen past her – she burrows. I feel the crushing blow of its maw. My body yields with a slow pop; red and yellow mar the reaper. As it strips my carcass bare, a final glance beyond shows the world in ruin.


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

 

Damned Words 29



Worthy of Heart
Lee A. Forman

Preserve their milky flesh; make bare soft, pink innards. Harvest remains, cover them in garnish, make beauty of woeful frames. Consume the fetal home—the birthing apparatus—for it is not lasting. But the tiny, wriggling creatures, perfect for trimming. They grow with skill, become things that made them. They pose for desire, malleable to intention. To play with life and death, their brittle models, is to be a god with artful power. Divine imagination is the finest tool. To make rich and vibrant something dull, paint life onto spilled passing.

Beautiful as the collection stands, it is but practice. Want of larger work—a showpiece worthy of burning hearts—fuels stimulus with copious motivation. The hunt must seek substantial result. Perhaps, something less of nature. A fine canvas, tall and supple. The grand puppet of evolution. Two masters of the Earth, to be my servants. They’ll birth the final piece, to be emptied of mortality, and filled with tender love of my pursuit.


Tableau
A.F. Stewart

I loved my secret hobby. Some could call it macabre, this taxidermy, but I saw it as repurposing dead things by turning them into art. My latest project was my best yet:  a ferret and squirrel tea party. I had trouble getting the ferrets at first, but I worked it out. And today I’d just tightened the last screw in the glass case.
“Hey, Jay. How are those ferrets doing?”
I whirled at the voice. Dave from the pet store stood by the open garage door.
“Hey, what’s that?” Dave stepped forward and saw my new tableau. He went ballistic. “What the hell did you do to those ferrets?” He grabbed me. “You little shit! That’s animal cruelty! I’m calling the cops!”
Staring at his angry face, hearing his threats, something just snapped. Panicked, I plunged my screwdriver into Dave’s throat. He grabbed at his neck, gurgled blood and collapsed. I stood trembling, afraid, but…
I kept gawking at Dave’s pooling blood. It stirred new ideas in my brain for a spectacular scene. I glanced over at the bloody screwdriver sticking in Dave’s neck and suddenly smiled.
I just needed a few more people to make it work…

Companions
Mercedes M. Yardley

After one year of living in the box, he let her out into the cellar. After nearly two, he let her have a needle, only under his watch, of course, and she would stitch up the furry little corpses he would bring her. If you take the insides out and replace them with sawdust or small rocks, they won’t smell. It took her a long time to discover this, but after she did, her companions were more enjoyable.

“This one is Mama,” she whispered. “This is Papa. This is June.” Mama, Papa, and June were cherished. Snuggled. Held tight in the dark.

“Why don’t you name one after me?” he asked. His sweat smelled worse than the animal’s decay. His hands were heavy and did unspeakable things.

She refused to name the last toy, calling it Not-Mama or Not-Papa or Not-June. It sat alone by the bowl she used for a toilet. She made sure it was missing its eyes.


How Is the Tea
Jon Olson

Don’t you love tea parties, my dear? I do, although I didn’t like using dolls so I settled on animals. I had Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, Mr. Ferret and the sweet Miss Squirrel. They always bit me or tried to escape. I killed them. With no will of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse could entertain their guests for days on end. How is the tea? Oh, just lovely! They would rot after a while, smelling awful so I’d switch them up with fresh ones. Did you know I tried people once? It was horrible. They screamed and didn’t even want to play. Imagine! Before serving a single cup, I slit their throats. Besides, I missed Mr. Mouse’s gruff laugh and Miss Squirrel’s squeaky coughs. And now they’re with me here in the hospital. I get to visit them every day. Even the lunatics swing by to see them. More tea, old chap? Why certainly, sir!


Daddy’s Little Girl
Nina D’Arcangela

“Daddy!” I turned to see my little girl, her cheeks roughed, a white rat proffered in her outstretched hands; blood dripped from its stilled nose. “Fix it, Daddy, hurry!” I took the slight offering to my workbench. She watched with rapt fascination as I opened, then gutted the animal. Once the hide was cleaned, I applied a preserving agent. Days later, we stuffed the husk; she chose the position, I sewed its remains. Poised on a miniature chair, she whisked the creature away. The following week, a squirrel accompanied the same desperate plea; again I administered, again she observed. After the fourth, she begged a box to house them for afternoon biscuits and tea. I indulged.

She became reclusive soon after, choosing to spend volumes of time in her attic playroom. Concerned, I climbed the stairs to her private sanctum one afternoon. I swung the door wide–the fetid stench nearly overwhelmed me. There, on the floor, sat my little girl amongst a menagerie of mutilated creatures, including her beloved pet cat; a bird crudely stitched into its open maw. She smiled, clapped with sticky fingers, and giggled. “Look, Daddy, I fixed them, just like you.”


Perfection
Mark Steinwachs

Every stitch. Every tuft of fur.

Every. Single. Piece.

It’s perfect. Unlike the world. My views on humanity evolved as my project progressed. My coworkers joked about what I was doing because they didn’t understand. It hurt, but I kept going. They flitted about their lives, unfocused, I continued to center myself. I started crouching over my creation night after night. Soon, all I had left was work… and this. I work so I can create. And now I am done. Alone with perfection.

Every. Single. Piece.

When you truly give all, nothing remains. This is my all. I want nothing more from this world, nothing from the lost people who drift about until they wither away. When they find my art they will understand my patience and attention to detail.

I sit at the reception desk, decisive-sounding clacks filling my ears as I tap the last few keystrokes. Only I could pull this off. Computers are wonderful, if you know how to manipulate them.

Within moments, doors lock, cell phone signals jam, and gas pours from vents. We die as we live. I smile, watching my coworkers’ panicked final seconds. Calm, I take my last breath. Perfection.


Guest or Demon
Christopher A. Liccardi

They looked like fucking rodents. They died how they lived; like a pack of biting, gnashing vermin. Each one poised and refined. But, lift the glass and you’d be gob smacked with the stench of decay and putrescence that will never leave you.

Each had done me a bad turn so they had to pay.

Revenge?

No. Not for a moment could you think this elaborate scene was crafted with such feeble petty intent. That game, I left to the jilted lovers and business partners not savvy enough to see their other half beat them to the punch. My motivation was societal, selfless. Each played a part in my loss of her. Each took something away that I was, so each had to be outsmarted, out-gunned or out maneuvered.

She is gone now and will never return, but I have these four elegant guests over for tea and I will hate them no less as the decades creep past and the lust turns bitter.

At least I have these demons for company as I slowly rot alone.


The Last Tea Party
Scarlett R. Algee

When I see my inheritance, my jaw drops. Four taxidermied animals in a glass display case: three ferrets and a squirrel. They wear scraps of velvet and silk, sitting around a table piled with miniature pastries and a tea set. One ferret wears a top hat at a jaunty angle; another mouths a doll’s pearl necklace. Nana’s sticky note, taped to the glass, reads For Rachel and her sisters, together forever. I swear under my breath. Nana had been sick, but not demented. She knew my sisters were gone, and this is what she left me?

I lift the lid, the stench of mothballs wafting up. Dizzy, fumbling with the glass case, I turn around blindly and smack the wall. My vision blanks out. When it clears, my tail is being squashed against my chairback. I don’t remember having a tail.

I recognize them, those three pointed faces. Sarah teethes her pearls. Lana grins from beneath the top hat. Reilly’s still, but beneath her feathered headband, her eyes gleam. Rachel, each says through a stiff, pointed smile, sister, you made it, you found us.

Me and my sisters, together forever. I want to scream, but I can’t open my mouth.


The Time Out Box
Lydia Prime

They were being mean and I didn’t want to listen anymore. Mommy said that if I invited them over things would change and we could be friends. Mommy’s never been seven years old, obviously. I tried to show them my real friends. The ones who were never mean to me, but those girls said I was weird. One of them even started crying! I didn’t understand! How could they not be immediately drawn in by the tea party my fuzzy little friends were having?

I cried alone for a while, my insides began to burn. I heard them whispering. They were saying awful things about me, the whispering grew louder and my head started to hurt. I just wished I could put them all in time out. Then the voices stopped. I heard four echoing thumps, and walked to my room. They laid seemingly lifeless about the floor. I looked to my fuzzy friends and saw that their eyes had changed, no longer empty. I could see the mean girls reflected back against them, my wish came true. Time out for bad girls.

I set them up exactly like my fuzzy friends, I think I like them better now.


Memorabilia
John Potts Jr

Wrapped in an old sheet was the diorama Grandma made for my graduation. Gary saw only a piece of junk and beelined for the trash but somewhere along the way he stopped, turned to me, and performed this…this un-Gary-like act of love: he asked me if I wanted to hang on to it. I smiled and nodded. He playfully teased back. I could tell that Gary was drunk. So was I. Maybe that’s why I spilled the truth.

“I told you that Grandam loved serial killers, right? Well, that’s because she was one. And she never let anyone bully me. Grandma lured my high school bullies—those fuckers—into her basement and kept them locked there, alive, for days. She tortured them hour after hour until chopping them into bits small enough for the birds to devour. Chloe really did have turquoise eyes, too. I wanted to keep her hair and her lips and her eyes—especially those eyes! Of course Grandma wouldn’t let me so she gave me this diorama instead; something special to remember her by,” I took his hands and smiled. “That’s why I can’t part with it, Gary.”


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

 

Damned Words 28


In the Darkness, Gently
A.F. Stewart

The snow falls silently in the night, drifting softly to the ground against the moonlight. The wind is still, the tree branches unmoving. Not even a rustling mouse or the shadow of an owl overhead to break the spell of quiet peace. I hear nothing but the hushed sound of my own breath. So I wait.

Time passes. The cold seeps in, begins to numb my fingers and toes. It does not matter. Nothing matters but my obedience, my service. They will come. They will deliver judgment. I wait on their inclination, their decision on whether I am worthy.

I glance at the snow by my feet. It has turned red from Richard’s blood. The sight is stark, beautiful, this primal colour against the white. I stare at the blood:  the patches in the snow, where it has congealed around the wound in his skull. Hitting him was easier than I thought. Dragging his unconscious body here from the house was the difficult part.

I hear the whispers now, their sweet voices. They are pleased. They will come. They will accept my sacrifice.


Opening of the Fifth
Lee A. Forman

Reborn as one, those separate in life shall be stitched in undeath. We bring them to our canvas, cold and pure. It’s there we forge reanimation to that which has gone stale. We place their bodies beside one another like angels in the snow. Two souls would be one, flesh woven together by artisan hands. The scent of pine and copper compliments our senses, a perfect blend to accompany the work. Crystal drops rest upon bleak faces with closed eyes. Soon a fifth would open, reveal to them a world of things unseen; a forsaken place where life and death strays from precepts of human understanding—an existence beyond.


The Real Me
Jon Olson

Sprinting, it begins to snow. They’re behind me somewhere, yelling and cursing. No doubt they’ll come in greater numbers. It doesn’t matter now. A few more steps and I’ll be safe. Protected by the darkness, free to change and become my true self. I can still taste the orderly’s blood with fleshy bits of his nose still stuck between my teeth. Licking my lips my stomach growls and the shape-shifting begins. Skin splits, bones pop and snap as my form rearranges. It’s over in seconds. Grinning, I gallop toward the search party. Sniffing the air, I smell their fear. They know the real me is coming and I’m ecstatic to make their acquaintance…


Deceit
Christopher A. Liccardi

Lying under this icy blanket, I smell it approach. The falling flakes mask my scent; it knows not that I wait. It pauses; I hear it feed from the dewy fern, suckling the wet from the branches. With a single thud of its hoof, I know it has begun its advance again. Snuffling the fresh bed before it, I imagine an ear twitch, an eye round further, instinct warning it to fear… Though if it lifts its snout, it will once again smell only the storm scented air, not my stench.

A tentative step, then another. Now it strides with confidence nearing the protected brush. As it ascends the hillock, I strike. Teeth gnash on thrashing limbs, I roll from my bed under the whiteness slamming the creature to its side. I roll again, this time attempting to snap its neck. The leg I’ve seized is too thin, I grasp for a meatier portion of the caribou. I release, I lunge—it lands a kick in my gut, but not before my maw closes around its throat.

Crimson taints the bleached ground; my grunts fill the air as I devour my prey.


Director’s Cut
Mark Steinwachs

I stand on the porch, watching the snow. So silent, so serene, same as it was when I took the picture for her a few days ago. It’s amazing what you can portray to the world, you force people to see what you want, hiding the rest off-screen. We’re all directors of our own movie, only most people don’t realize it, just like they don’t think about the lights and stands and cables surrounding their favorite actor inches outside the shot.

I know, I’m a director. The best. It’s simple, really. Give them what they want to see and they’ll see it. Right up until it’s too late. She loved the country, its beauty, so I showed her, and after a few dates… Well, let’s say she was born for the role. I picked out her spot before I knew who she was.

I smile as my eyes fall to the half-dug hole in front of the tree in the distance. Now to find who deserves to be my sixth. I pull my phone out, one gloveless finger scrolling through profile pictures as the snow continues to fall.


Footprints
Mercedes M. Yardly

She left bloody footprints in the snow.

First they were small droplets, like Snow White’s mother who pricked her finger over her embroidery. Red French knots on linen. Red berries on white stone.

Then they became more. The unsettling slash of lips in a pale face, the slit of split skin, a wound that won’t close.

Ribbons. Swaths. Coils of red. Each step lanced her frozen feet, the crusty ice slicing tender skin. But each step was freedom, closer toward her mother, and the broken chains clinking around her ankles sang, “Let’s go home, let’s go home, let’s go home.”


Sylph Surfer
Nina D’Arcangela

Peaceful, so it seems, a glade shrouded in haze of dusk; sitting calmly in gentle gloam, it awaits full evening’s thrust. A subtle whisper ‘twixt tree and limb, all sway to and fro; snow settles upon thinnest branch, it bends most subservient bough. My siblings and I, we glide on currents lift, licking droplets from the air. The game afoot, as it always is, when wind is true and fair. Below I spy the first; tired, wet and cold. He drags a yelping mutt behind, leaving visage now rutted bold. Fleet as the others be, I am that much quicker, I descend among the flakes, strike the boy from the side–we tumble a mad twister. The white clouds his eyes as he shakes his hooded head, by then it is too late, for I have sunk my teeth, his pet already dead.


Bundled Up
John Potts Jr

Cassie nodded to Gregor and he stood, shifting to a wide stance with his arms raised shoulder level. A sharp ripping echoed through their empty cabin and Cassie thought how much she loathed today—this very moment—as she wrapped thick tape around the wrists and ankles of Gregor’s snowsuit. She stepped back, determined to stay strong. Will my sweet come back to me? Cassie pulled Gregor’s hat over his ears. “Better,” she whispered before kissing her love goodbye. Cassie could never watch him leave; it was too hard on her frayed nerves. And she knew the expedition in the wastes would last days and Gregor always came back to her so Cassie eased herself into bed, turned down the lights, and went to bed.

But there was something Cassie couldn’t shake and when she slipped into slumber that night a horrid image flashed her mind: only one of Gregor’s boots had been tied. Gregor tripped outside the door, falling downhill into an ugly roll that sent his body into the base of a lifeless oak. Both his hat and scarf tore from his face and the falling snow dissolved his exposed flesh to the marrow.


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

 

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