The Story of You

How would you live the rest of your life, she had wondered, if you knew you only had a finite number of days left? How would that change things? Would it make the sad, lackluster time sweeter? Would something shine?

Jesus Christ knew the number of days left before his death. So did killers on death row. Did it change things? Make the quality of your final days differ? She wanted to find out.

She gave herself ten days. Ten final days, and what would she make of the rest of her life?

Ten. She quit her job. Not only did she quit, but she quit with joy, with verve. She said, “I quit,” and did a little dance on her boss’ desk. She threw her head back and laughed as she was escorted out by security. She flipped the building off and stopped for a midday ice cream on the way home.

Nine. She slept in. She got out of bed to answer the door and eat the Chinese she ordered. She ordered everything on the menu that she had ever wanted to try. All of the shrimps and the sauces and everything delicious. She laid in bed with her food around her, watching lame reruns on the TV because she could. She ate trash, watched trash, and let the trash of the day pile up around her.

Eight. She spent the day throwing up trash, trash, trash. She wanted to simply forget day eight.

Seven. She showered and shaved and plucked. She powdered and perfumed. She put on that darling dress in the back of her closet that she’d purchased for a special occasion. There had never been a special occasion. Today wasn’t that special occasion, either, but she looked at herself in the mirror with clear eyes and a small smile.

Six. She called her mother. She called her best friend. She called the guy who had given her his number a few months ago. He was surprised to hear from her, but still remembered her.

“I’ve had your number in my wallet ever since the party, just in case I decided to call,” she admitted shyly.

He laughed and it was a beautiful sound. “I’m so glad you did,” he said. “What changed?”

She didn’t answer but asked him if he wanted to go to a play with her later that week. He agreed. She bought tickets and also wondered what she should wear to her funeral. Most likely the special occasion dress.

Five. She bought the grand piano she had always wanted. It was glossy and gorgeous, and they brought it right to her home. The piano tuner tuned it, and then played the most intricate music she had ever heard.

“I think I’m going to cry,” she told him, and when he played the old song her father used to sing to her, she did.

Four. She played the piano.

Three. She played the piano. She slept beneath it that night. There was plenty of room and her dreams were ethereal.

Two. She pulled on her favorite scarf and went to the park. The trees were bare and the wind bit at her, but it tasted fresh. She had always wanted to go to Iceland, or to Finland. She wanted to drink the purest water in the world and watch the aurora borealis. She felt a tight pang in her chest when she realized that would never happen. Was this sorrow? Yes, it was definitely sorrow, but then she saw a fluffy white dog and there was no room in her heart for any type of sadness. It was full of oversized paws and soft fur and a warm puppy tongue and everything inside of her heart fit perfectly.

One. She wore her special occasion dress and met her date at the theater. He was charming and his eyes squinted when he laughed. The actors were talented and she caught her breath during the play several times, but it caught most when this kind man gently took her hand and held it. He held it for the rest of the show and as they walked outside into the moonlight.

“I wish it didn’t have to end,” she said, and the beauty of the world was nearly too much. There were grand pianos and fluffy dogs and delicious food. There was art and plays and friends she didn’t even know existed yet. She wanted to see the Northern Lights. She hadn’t wanted anything in years.

“Who says it has to end?” he asked her, quizzically. “This could just be the beginning to everything.”

The beginning or the end. She would stay up tonight and decide. She blinked at him and her eyes reflected the moon.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Goodies

Stark and black, the oaks rose through the morning’s ghostly fog, Spanish moss dripping from their limbs like the hair of drowned corpses. Beneath the oaks, twelve-year-old Emmy stopped as a sound whispered along the trail before her.

“That you, Mom?”

It was just like her mom to scare her.

“Mom?”

There wasn’t any answer and Emmy doubted it had been her mother anyway. The breeze would have brought Mom’s scent. She hitched her heavy bag higher on one thin shoulder and walked on. Nothing jumped her.

Then she was free of the oaks and stalking through a meadow toward her grandmother’s cabin. It was brighter here, the fog lifting. Her feet swished in thick, wet grass. A spider web fingered her face. She brushed it away as she knocked on Grandmother’s door.

“Come in,” a guttural voice called.

The door creaked open. Night lingered within and Emmy flicked on the flashlight that she carried in one pocket of her red parka.

Grandma’s house was an abattoir.

Emmy’s eyes widened. There were more bodies than last time. Some were alive, or semi-alive.

“Well come on, Dear,” the voice called again, impatiently.

Emmy started forward between two chained rows of drooling forms. Hungry moans roiled the air. She ignored them. Broken fingered hands grasped at her. She ducked them, her feet kicking tibias and ribs from her path, some cracked and bleached white, some…meaty.

Just past the zombies, Grandmother’s door stood open.  Grandma lay on the bed amid quilts and pillows. She was still in wolf form.

“You brought the stuff?” Grandma demanded.

“I brought it,” Emmy said.

She sat her bag on the bed and Grandma jerked it away with taloned hands and ripped it open. Livers and hearts and links of intestines spilled out like a miser’s hoard, but Grandma had eyes for only one thing, a jar of rare delicacies. She grabbed it, tore off the lid and dipped within to pull out a pinkish, cauliflower-sized lump.

“Ah,” she sighed, popping the thing between her teeth. “Melts in your mouth.”  She reached for another.

Emmy frowned. “I thought you liked hearts best, Grandma. Mom only sent four baby brains.”

Grandma chuckled, stroked Emmy’s head with clawed fingers.

“Tastes change,” she said, grabbing another tidbit.

Emmy frowned again, and a sudden gasp spilled from her lips.

Grandma heard the gasp and turned bloodshot eyes accusingly upon her granddaughter. The last brain was chewed mush in her mouth.

“What, child?”

“That bite on your shoulder, Grandma!  Where did you get it?”

Grandma smiled, with teeth that could crush spines.

“Just a scratch, Dearie. Come give Grandma a hug.”

Shaking back her hood, Emmy drew the nickel-plated .357 from her other pocket. She knew where Grandma’s bite had come from. Grandma had gotten careless with a zombie.

With a howl, Grandma leaped from the bed, her eyes screaming, “Brains, brains!”

Emmy pulled the trigger. There was only one cure for what ailed Grandma.

A silver bullet.

Through the head.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Sinner

May the gods forgive me, for I must have sinned.

It began six months ago when I broke out in great welts all over my body. Every pore of my skin was on fire. This wretched condition finally subsided, but then the skin started peeling off my hands and the soles of my feet.

When I go to work in the fields it is like walking on shards of broken glass. I must not think of that. I have my duties. I am expected to finish all before I may rest. Last night, I stole a pair gloves to keep from shredding my own flesh.

The peeling continues all over my body where the rash was. The new layers on my hands and feet are bright and tender. But it is not a normal color – not the color of our people, and that bothers me. I wear the gloves all the time now.

Today a larger strip loosens from my right arm. I pick at it until it lets go. It’s most of the diameter of my arm. I fold it up and put it under my mattress. But first, I notice that the new skin is also dark and mottled like that on my palms and feet. It is as if I’m marked, like a child of an Evil God. Perhaps I am paying for the sins of some relative.

I have been over and over it in my head. What did I do? I just do what I’m told. Taking the prisoners out of their barracks at gunpoint and walking them to the fields where each is made to dig his own grave. When one is finished to my satisfaction, I put a bullet in his temple. I am not even in charge of the women and children, so it’s not that troublesome.

This day, the last of my old skin peeled off. I have stored it under my mattress as well. The only part that hasn’t yet peeled is my face. Still, it is obvious that I am soon to be wholly marked with the same color skin as our sinful enemy. The shame is too great to bear. Come night, I shall gather my old skin into a bundle, for it is indeed the one thing that I truly own and therefore I may dispose of it as I see fit. I shall take the shovel to dig my grave in the fields. I have the pistol. One bullet will suffice.

May the gods forgive me.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Undo the Living

The cover of the VHS tape on the shelf at Lloyd’s video rental department beckoned him. Julian stared at the art— a skull with wide bulging eyes still in their sockets and some roses resting beneath it. The eyes excitedly stared back into Julian’s, saying pick me up, watch me, you’ll enjoy it.

As he lifted the case from the shelf, a cold hand rested on his shoulder. It was not the loving palm of his mother; this was too big, too heavy.

“Excellent choice,” the stranger said. “I’ve seen it ten times.”

“I never saw it. I don’t even know what it’s about,” Julian replied, his back still turned to whoever wielded the massive hand gripping his shoulder. “But I like the cover.”

“Oh.” The man tightened his long fingers. “It’s a good one. You’ll like it, I assure you. Scary as anything you’ve seen.”

When Julian turned around he found himself alone. He looked back to the video tape. Undo the Living read the title in a bloody font.

“Julian!” his mother called. “Did you pick out a movie?”

“Yeah, I got one.”

“Well let’s go!” she demanded.

When Julian got home he went to his room and put the tape in the VCR. The screen filled with lines and pixels, while the sound warped, slowed, distorted. He mashed the tracking buttons until the picture became clear.

His breath stopped when he saw himself on the screen, in his own room. Only, behind him stood a man with large hands.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright 2019 Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Final Harvest

Wind chased the moonlight with a touch of frost and whispers from the grave. The fallen leaves swirled over the cold ground and crackled into the silence. From deep within the soil, blood seeped to the surface and screams reverberated in the air; the echoing pain from forgotten spirits of the dead. Tendrils of mist, grey and damp, drifted from the ground and the forest throbbed with a faint rhythm, a hint of an ancient heartbeat.

From the dark bowels of hellfire and damnation, a figure arose; a crone dressed in ebony robes and wielding a skull-topped staff made of bone. She thumped the cane three times; the skull trembled, and the wind swirled in angry gusts. The earth cracked open and a green miasma hissed forth, carrying a siren’s song that played underneath the edge of the world. The mist snaked along the trail leading to the village, searching.

The old witch smiled, placing both hands on top of her staff. Around her ghosts drifted from the trees, compelled to bear witness. Above the forest came the hoot of an owl. Then the night cloaked itself in silence and the moon hid behind the clouds.

The witch and her spirits waited.

***

“Come on, Sandra! I don’t want to go hiking in the woods this late. You said you wanted to go to my place. That’s why we left the party.”

“I heard something.” Sandra waved vaguely at her boyfriend, Harry. “Something… I don’t know.” She moved closer to the trees. 

“Sandra, come on! What the hell are you doing?”

She ignored him, walking faster, her ears filled with a sweet strain of music. She smiled, a strange euphoria dancing in her head and she broke out in a run. She never heard Harry’s shouts or the sound of him chasing her. She only followed the song into the trees.

The green mist greeted her and wrapped itself around her body, pulling her deeper and deeper into the forest, to where the old witch waited. 

As the tree cover thickened, Harry’s screams finally penetrated her perception, and she turned her head. She smiled at his thrashing body and happily watched the mist drag him along the forest floor. Her feet scuffled through the leaves and dirt and an errant breeze ruffled her hair, but her glassy-eyed stare barely saw her surroundings.

At last they arrived, stopping a foot away from the witch, and the mist loosed its grip, retreating into the earth. 

Harry scrambled to his feet, bleeding from dozens of scrapes. “What the hell is going on? Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed Sandra’s arm, but she pulled away, moving closer to the old witch, a contented smile on her face.

“She’s mine now.” The crone cackled. “You weren’t part of the deal, but I never reject a gift.” From beneath the folds of her robe, she pulled out a knife and handed it to Sandra. “Kill him, my dear.”

Sandra rushed forward and slashed a shocked Harry across the throat with the knife. He gurgled, clutching at the gushing wound in his throat, stumbled and fell. His blood flowed into the soil as he bled out and died.

Sandra turned back to the witch, the knife slipping from her fingers.

The old woman smiled at Sandra. “Now it’s your turn.”

The witch stamped her staff three times on the ground. Thousands of ghosts swarmed from the trees, the air, the soil, surrounding Sandra. The ghosts snatched at her hair and clothes, beat her with fists, kicked at her, each touch burning, searing into her skin and soul.   

She welcomed them with a shriek of joy, throwing her arms out wide as the ghosts surged closer. More hands tore at her, scorching her skin until it blistered and peeled away, until her blood flowed, until her body collapsed to the ground, still and cold. 

Then the spirits parted, leaving a path for the old woman, who walked forward. She lifted her staff and tapped it three times on Sandra’s body, and then on Harry’s. Two spirits rose from the corpses and joined the host of other phantoms. 

The old witch stepped over the bodies. “It’s time.”

This time she drove her staff into the soil. The earth quivered, vibrations racing across the woodland to the tops of the trees, and the air shattered with the howls of the damned. Red blood bubbled from the ground and flowed up the cane, twisting lines coursing into the skull, filling its hollow insides and spilling out past the bony rims of its eyes. The staff glowed in crimson energy and the horde of ghosts moaned. 

With a whispered word from the old crone, coils of energy lashed out from the staff, seeking the captive spirits, each soul pierced and drawn back into the witch’s talisman. When the last ghost vanished within the skull, the trail glowed red, following a winding path towards the village. 

The old witch took a breath and moved forward, walking down the trail and past the edge of the woods for the first time in two hundred years. She hummed a faint tune and wondered who she would kill first.

~ A. F. Stewart

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

 

Patient Zero

The first thing you do when you wake up is peel your eyelids open with your fingers.

Your lashes are gummy, and almost stick together again when you squint against the too-bright light. Your tongue feels parched and furry, clinging to the roof of your mouth. When you work your jaws there’s the distinct sting of flesh parting. You taste something metallic, like blood, but thick and rancid. Sweat slicks your forehead, oily and cold.

Cold. You fumble the back of your hand across your forehead and yes, your skin is cool. Your fever must have broken.

Annalise had been sick at the office party last night, or at least she’d complained of feeling unwell. So had Brian and Tamsin, separately; Brian had said his kids had come home from school aching. Some sort of crud, you’d all agreed, something going around. They’d decided to go home early. You’d felt fine at the time, but talking to them had left a psychosomatic scratchiness in your throat.

Or at least you’d thought it was psychosomatic. By the time you’d pulled into your own driveway, you could feel the swell of your tonsils every time you swallowed, and your skin had felt like parchment paper left in an oven too long; brittle and scorched around the edges. You’d choked down water and ibuprofen in the kitchen, then stumbled out of your stilettos and staggered to the bedroom where, vision blurring and hands beginning to shake, you’d read your temperature on the digital thermometer as a hundred and four.

I’ll go to the ER, you’d told yourself dizzily. Right after I just lie here a few minutes.

But that had been last night, or so you think. You’re still in the cocktail dress you’d worn to the party, and as you struggle upright, limbs heavy and joints crackling in protest, you catch sight of the bruises in the creases of both your elbows, large and slate-blue. The skin around them is grey, and panic twists heavily in your chest as you scrabble the thermometer from the bedside table and shove it beneath your stiff tongue. In a few seconds the thermometer’s alarm shrills, and you pull it free, squinting harder; the skin of your forehead creases and splits with the effort.

Eighty-five degrees.

You can’t feel your heartbeat.

Something is very, very wrong.

Standing is difficult; your knees have locked almost completely, nearly pitching you straight forward onto the floor. But you catch yourself against the nightstand and totter into the bathroom, holding onto the fixtures, the furniture, the walls. You grip the edges of the sink and haul yourself in front of the mirror and scream, except you don’t. The noise that comes out as you stare at yourself is airless and soft.

The skin of your face is ash grey. Your eyes are sunken and semi-opaque, surrounded by deep purple lids. You pull back your lips and see blackened gums shriveling away from your teeth. Shuddering, you hug yourself and rub your icy forearms, and a flap of skin drops away from one limb like a discarded glove.

Whatever this is, you don’t think the ER can help you now.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright 2019 Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Dare

It was simple, if they wanted to join the sorority they had to complete a dare. The most popular girls got the easy ones; kiss a nerd, steal a chalk duster from a lecture theater. The girls on the bottom of the pledge list got the hard ones. Sarah, dead last in popularity with her potential sorority sisters, got the hardest. But she was determined to start her college life as a member of the most popular sorority, so she willingly accepted the challenge.

She had to take a selfie in the Murder House.

The Adams House was its official name, but to the students and faculty, it’d always been the Murder House. After all, it was where Professor Adams killed his family before turning the gun on himself. It happened in 1972. Afterwards, anyone who moved in didn’t stay long and every one of them told the same story. It was haunted by the ghosts of the dead family. In 1989 the university sealed up the house and left it to rot.

Sarah decided to go in the daytime. Logic supposed the ghosts would only be active after dark. The house was surrounded by a metal fence, topped with vicious looking spikes. Sarah opened the gate and walked up the path to the house. The windows and doors were covered with wood panels, but the wood used to block the front door was rotted and loose. She pushed through and was surprised to find the front door ajar.

She stood in the hall, looking around. Through open doorways she could see empty rooms to her left and right. In front was a curved, open staircase. She’d been told she had to take the photograph in the upstairs bedroom, where the murders had taken place.

She stepped forward and placed her foot on the first stair. With an explosion of noise, the front door slammed shut. She screamed. The two open doorways on the first floor banged shut as well. She ran up the stairs, with the sound of slamming doors echoing through the house. As she reached the top, all doors were closed except one. She had no choice, she had to escape.

The room she entered was as empty as the others. French doors led out onto a balcony. The door slammed behind her. There was only one way out. She opened the french doors and stepped onto the balcony. The doors closed behind her. She glanced over the low railing of the balcony to the garden. The railing that surrounded the house was directly below. She could see spikes pointing upwards. She’d have to be careful, but it was just possible she could drop from the balcony without hitting the railing. It was the only option, she wasn’t going to go back into that house; the legends were true, the place was haunted.

She stepped over the railing, grabbed hold of the metal and started to lower herself. She maneuvered into position, her feet dangling in midair, her grip on the metal railing holding her entire weight. She quickly realized her plan wouldn’t work; if she dropped, she’d hit the spikes. She’d have to climb back onto the balcony, but she found she couldn’t do it. Her feet could find no purchase and she wasn’t strong enough to pull herself back up using her arms alone. She was stuck.

She screamed, her throat raw and burning. She could see figures running along the road. A huge sense of relief swept over her; she was saved. She no longer minded the pain in her shoulder and arm muscles. She could grip the balcony railing for as long as it took for someone to prop a ladder under her. It was then she felt it, a soft fluttering sensation on her hands, as if a butterfly had landed on her skin. Slowly, one-by-one, she felt her fingers being lifted from the rail. Below her the spikes glinted in the sunlight. Just before she fell, she heard the sweet laughter of a child.

∼ R.J. Meldrum

© Copyright 2019 R.J. Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

 

The End

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

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

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

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

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

“Trick or treat!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone is in place waiting on our signal.

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

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

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

No one could envision it starting this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Care to explain things to him, Adra?”

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Tom stares at me in silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Murder House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.