Damned Echoes 4

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The Island
Brian Moreland

The luxury yacht traversed between the Philippine islands. Derek found the perfect beach in a hidden lagoon. Tom dropped anchor. The girls, in bikinis, packed sandwiches and beer. The jungle watched as two couples disembarked and waded through crystal water to the beach. They picnicked, swam, napped in the sun. Tom and Jasmine hiked into the jungle “to be alone.” Their screams woke Derek and Amy. They searched the island for their missing friends. Found them tied to trees, skinned to red sinews. Tom’s eyes had been eaten out. Jasmine, bleeding from head to toe, begged for help. Derek tried to untie her. The vines tightened, snapped her ribcage. Green tentacles shot out, wrapped around Derek. He yelled as thorny vines peeled off his skin. Amy, crying, backed into a stone idol. Ivy snaked up her legs. After feeding, the jungle placed bloody bones at the feet of their god.


Thirty-seven Days
Joseph A. Pinto

Sunlight clings to life; a sliver across his eyes. He draws the blinds, killing it for good. Adjusts to the gloom, the shadow. It covers the room; a sheet uninterrupted in its totality. No furniture, no menial things to disrupt its reach.

Thirty-seven days; he is quite used to the black. Seen no more, still he can hear them, their ruinous limbs dragging across curbs. Teeth clack, clack, clacking inside misshapen heads. Human once, ravaged now by pestilence, disease.

Thirty-seven days since he has stepped foot outside. Nevertheless, his years of extravagant living, an overindulgent craving for the finest delicacies, has afforded him a luxury few can claim.

Thirty-seven days. He can survive thirty-seven more. Knife against his stomach, he slices flesh razor thin; he will sustain himself. Water from toilet, meat across tongue; he will sustain himself until the world turns sane once more.


A Passing Discomfort
Lee A. Forman

When two hands touch something is always felt. It might be an awkward pang, or something more uncomfortable—revulsion, a burning disgust for the feel of another human being.

Sometimes it’s more.

The heart races. Every tiny hair on my skin rises. And I know they feel the same thing.

A glance into their eyes and it’s over. The mask of terror forms, carved by my curse. I traverse an incalculable distance, one that can’t be measured in numbers; something greater than infinity but more tangible. You could hold it in your hands or it could encompass all time and space.

I know exactly when they’re going to die. And so do they, but only for that moment of discomfort when brushing against a stranger. In the blink of an eye they forget. But I remember. Even after they’re gone.


Food Chain
Veronica Magenta Nero

I used to feed on insects and vermin that I trapped in my black and blistered hands. I lived in slim alleys where brick walls caked with despair met in dead ends. Bags of garbage piled high like fat split bodies, thin skins leaking toxic waste, under the dark loom of sky scrapers. Towers so high you can’t see the top, they block the sun.

But I found the way out, took a chance when I saw it. I groomed myself in a new image. I stepped on the heads of those less hungry, less able, ripped them down as I pulled myself up, to the top of the food chain. Elite meat is sautéed in sweet tears and sweat, the luxury of human flesh free of disease, a menu of privileged taste.


Human Luxury
Craig McGray

There once was no greater luxury than being human. Unfortunately, that is rare in the days that follow the uprising. The very technology that we developed turned out to be our downfall and now there are far more of them than there are of us. Artificial intelligence suddenly became not so artificial and before we had a chance to react, they had control of everything in our world, including our population. Humans were rounded up and slaughtered in unimaginable numbers. Packed stadiums were obliterated, cities were all but wiped from the map, and countries crumbled as world leaders were targeted and disposed of. I’m not sure why, but they kept a small amount of us around and though we felt like the lucky few at the time, I don’t feel so lucky now. In fact, I’d gladly trade this luxury for the swift death that took my family from me.


Human Papers
Jon Olson

Just keep your head down, no need to draw any unnecessary attention. Two are wearing black suits. They’re Internal Registry Agents. Don’t make eye contact with them. Act normal, go about your business… shit! They’re following, asking me for them. Damn. They want to see my Human Registration Papers. Fuck. It’s almost impossible to register when you’re not of this earth. Keep walking. Head for the subway, you can lose them down there. They order me to stop and something about opening fire. Don’t stop, keep moving, you’re almost there! I hear a familiar click behind my head. Move feet, damn it, move! Just a few more-


Bloater
Nina D’Arcangela

Menthol, that’s all I smelled. The bloated mass before me waited patiently. I picked up the scalpel, the fluorescent light humming above glinted off its metallic surface. The Y incision made, I peeled back the outer layer of skin exposing globules of fatty residue and further decomposed tissue. Thick yellow fluid oozed from the gangrenous edges of the incised flesh. The second stroke sliced through muscle, invaded the stomach cavity; the gaseous release hissed in competition with the fixture overhead. The half-digested, half-rotted contents within were easily discernible. Next, I moved to the throat and began a vertical slit in the esophagus. The small, elongated objects lodged in the upper esophageal sphincter left no doubt; they were human fingers. Removing my mask, I glanced at the chart, confirmed the preliminary findings.

Cause of Death: suffocation due to blockage of the systema respiratorium.


Echoes of a Chorus
Christopher A. Liccardi

The violins started, cellos chased their pulse as the last of his heart’s blood pumped out of him, unaware the journey was one way. His life spilled over the papers that recorded his greatest masterpiece and his death song.

I waived my hands in the air, conducting as I was taught by him. The yellow afterglow of his banker’s lamp on the piano winked in time to the throb of the aural perfection he’d finished not an hour ago. People would remember him for it; and me for killing him.

The orchestration had finally taken on a life of its own; his life, in fact but that’s how it should be, right? He always spoke about dying for his art. All I did was help him with that last bit.

The blade I now used as a baton, directing invisible musicians to symphonic perfection, and it was his greatest work.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016

The Life

I led the life once.

Once.

“Excuse me.  I was hoping we could talk a minute.  Something about what your daughter said to mine.”

It felt another lifetime ago.  For all intents and purposes, it was.

“You know how kids can be.  So I was hoping you could find out what was said?”

I was born into the life.  Into the family.  And when you’re born into the family, you’re expected to act a certain way.  There’s a creed that’s followed, one that’s not ever questioned.  Not ever.

“See, my little girl came home yesterday.  She told me your daughter told her that she can’t be on safety patrol.”

You lead two lives.  The person you are, and the person the family needs you to be.  You’re molded without ever feeling the hands.  It starts early, when you’re still too young to understand.  But you’re molded.  You’re taught there’s only one way, the family way.  No right, no wrong.

“She told me that your daughter told her that she’s too awkward to be on safety patrol.  That she’s not normal.  That she’s got issues.  My little girl cried all night.  It tore me up inside, you know?”

But times change.  Families change.  Values, the way of going about yourself.  Conducting business.  This new age took over and old school thinking got pushed further and further from the mind.  It went the way of the dinosaurs.  Extinct.

“Children shouldn’t have to deal with hurtful words, not at this age.  So I was hoping you could find out.  And if it’s true what she said, then maybe you could…you know…just talk to your daughter.”

Some things don’t ever die out, though.  Some things adapt, learn to survive.  Respect is one them.  It’s all in the way the family molds you.  My pop, for instance.  He did his thing, day in, day out, setting an example.  Simply by emulating him, I earned his respect.  Day in, day out.  The family way.  The only way he knew.

“There’s nothing got to be talked about.”  This father I had never met before, this father who I wanted to believe was as protective of his own daughter as I was of mine, waved his hand in front of my face.  I took note of his rail thin arms, his mismatched tattoos.  He leaned close to my face; a little too close.  “My woman raised our kid right, so your girl, she’s lying.  My kid ain’t done nothing wrong.”

“How can you say that if you haven’t even asked—”

There was this one time my pop and I sat eating lunch.  Respect, he blurted while we both chewed my Nonna’s tripe, is the most important thing in this world.  More important than money.  It shows up on the job long before you do.  You don’t have respect, you got nothingNothing.  He chewed and chewed on that tripe and then smiled, a rubbery piece of cow intestines caught in his teeth.  But sometimes, you need to teach it.

“Ain’t nothing got to be talked about!  Your girl is lying and that’s that.”  This father I never met before, this father who I still wanted to believe was as protective of his own daughter as I was of mine, still leaned close to my face; a little too close.  “Maybe there’s a reason your girl can’t make safety patrol.  Maybe you and your girl should figure it out yourselves.”

Sometimes you need to send them a message.

The father I had never met before smirked and stepped away. A young woman in skin-tight jeggings wearing a PINK hoodie two sizes too small sashayed over to him.  She stared, cracked her gum as he whispered in her ear, then they laughed. Laughed, all shits and giggles; the barbell through her tongue shiny under the sun.  They shared a sloppy kiss.

Stunods, real stunods, both of them.  The school doors opened, and again, for another day, my little girl was mine.

***

I led the life once.

Once.

But the life can’t always be what it was.  It can’t be.  Upbringings change, morals change.  The hands that once molded you disappear.  Disappear, and eventually you realize your own hands are meant to mold a new life.

I lay beside my daughter reading her a bedtime story.  Lightly, she touched my arm.  “Daddy, will I ever be on safety patrol?”

I closed the book.

“Daddy, I don’t want to be not normal.”

I listened.

“It’s okay though, Daddy, because I don’t need a lot of friends.  But I really want to be on safety patrol.  I can be really good at it, Daddy.”  Her hands flapped in front of her, limbs so rigid in her excitement.  “I can be really good.  Really good.”

Silently I seethed, cursing the unfairness of my daughter’s disabilities and for the first time in my life, I suddenly felt those hands upon me, the ones that had molded the life I once knew.  The life I thought was done.

Sometimes you need to teach it.  Sometimes you need to send them a message.

I took my little girl and hugged her, hugged and kissed her, reassuring her that all her life was going to be really good, really, really good.  I sang her a song about sunshine until she slipped into dreamland’s arms.  Then I locked myself in my room and wept before making the decision to step back into the life again.

***

It took a few days to learn his pattern.  It wasn’t hard.

I found him alone on a Tuesday night, the bar a quiet place right on the fringe of town.  I knew the bartender there.  Quite well.

A tiny bell sounded above the door as I stepped inside, but the father I had never met before didn’t turn around.  The bartender nodded toward me, then offered his only customer a shot that was greedily knocked back by a wobbly hand.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

He didn’t acknowledge me, not at first, his eyes bleary with liquor.  I took the stool beside him.  “See, I said I was hoping you could find out if it’s true, what your daughter said to mine, but you never bothered.  You never took the time.  You never took the effort.”

Recognition finally creased the face of the father I had never met before.  Before he could get in a slurred word, I leaned close to his face.  A little too close.  “Respect, my friend, is the most important thing in this world.  But you, you showed me none.”

He listened hard, my words whispered between my lips the way they were.  “You don’t have someone’s respect, then you have nothing.  You said your woman raised your kid right.  Your woman…”

His eyes followed the small box I placed between us atop the bar.  “I’m going to teach you something now.”  My fingers lingered, then drew from the box.  I patted his shoulder.  Hard.  I put my lips to his ear.  “Respect starts at home,” then I turned and left.

I was in no hurry.  My daughter would be home, sound asleep.  Tomorrow, I’d help her with her homework as I always did, then we’d talk about her joining safety patrol.  Tomorrow, I’d go back to being her dad.

But not tonight.

I rolled down the truck window and waited, waited until I heard the screams from the father I had never met before penetrate the bar walls.  Waited until I knew he had opened the box and found his woman’s pierced tongue inside.

Finally, I started my truck and headed home.  I had an irresistible urge to teach my wife Nonna’s old recipe for tripe once I got there.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2016 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

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Fairy

The deafening volume in the hallway was cut short by yet another scene of ruthlessness.

Terri was pulling a math book out of the bottom of his locker when something heavy crashed into him, driving his head into the corner of the metal enclosure.  The pain ringing in his ears briefly consumed him as he collapsed to the tile floor.  Not again, he pleaded inwardly as he pressed a shaky hand against his forehead to stem the flow of blood.

Regardless of the countless times something similar had happened, he was yet again flooded with humiliation, anger, and a desire to disappear; it was overwhelming.  He bowed his head and turned to the side as he bit his lip in a useless attempt to hold back tears that only served to incite his tormentor.

Nothing halted the insane volume of background noise that filled a school like the promise of violence.  But the silence never lasted, and his latest tormentor, one of his regulars, filled the empty space with ugly taunts.

“Hey Fairy,” Eric yelled. “How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of my way?”

He pulled his hand away from his forehead and a stream of blood poured down his face as he glanced at the onlookers.  The sight was familiar – a hungry crowd wielding phones that recorded the show in high definition.  Undoubtedly, many were already thinking about the comments they would upload along with the footage.

Most people in his position would at least look at their attacker, but there was no need.  It wasn’t because there was only one possible aggressor; the list of bullies was long.  It was because this asshole was one of only three that called him a fairy, and Eric’s oddly high-pitched voice betrayed him immediately.

“Look at me, you sack of shit!”

Eric slammed a meaty fist into the side of Terri’s face, rocking his head side to side.  Jeers and taunts erupted from the crowd as Eric’s football buddies cried out for more.  Waves of darkness edged their way into the periphery of his vision, but he kept his eyes on the crowd.  It was easy to gauge how bad the beating was going to be by the behavior of the audience.

The crowd was quickly getting bored; it was obvious he wasn’t going to fight back and the excitement ebbed away. The other students started to wander off.  He closed his eyes, tried to stop the tears, fought the urge to pass out.  He found himself wondering for the millionth time why none of the others cared, why none of them stood up for him.  Even the local Emo kids shunned him.  What was left of his ravaged heart ached.

“You got off easy,” Eric said as he rubbed his sore fist.  “Keep quiet about this or I’ll take it to a whole other level of ugly.”  The jocks walked away with their chests puffed out, almost as far as their egos, each boasting about how much they had lifted in gym class, somehow sure this equated to dick size.

He sat for a minute and waited for the hallway to clear before he slowly picked up his backpack.  He would have given anything for a sympathetic ear, or a caring shoulder, but he knew reality was nothing like the Lifetime Channel.   It would be a mistake to think he would get support or comfort anywhere, not even at home.

His father always insisted the beatings were his own fault for being a pansy that didn’t understand how the system worked.  Dad frequently told him that his life would be punctuated by failure and misery, and the rotten bastard was right so far.

He started to walk, unsure of where he was headed, knowing it didn’t really matter.  For too many years he planted hopes, wishes, and dreams in his conscious mind like a starving farmer plants the last of his seeds.  He watered them with desperation, fertilized them with as much bullshit as he could muster, but the field of his soul was still a desolate, ugly place.  Why?  The truth was simple.  Hope was snake oil.  Wishes?  Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.  Dreams?  Those were the equivalent of a carrot on a stick held in front of a mule headed to the glue factory.

There was no such thing as good in this world.  It was as mythological as a unicorn, just more useless.  Since there was no good, there could be no evil.  There were only varying levels of pain and anguish that were blissfully interrupted by the oblivion of sleep.  He frequently dreamt of sleeping eternally, wishing for nothingness to absorb his worthless existence.

In the end, it all came back to the same question.  Would he be perceived as selfish?  Perhaps, but nobody cared enough to notice, much less think about him if he were gone.  It was time.

He reached into his backpack and pulled out the knife. His throat felt tight, and as his resolve strengthened, tears of a different kind slipped from his eyes and mixed with the drying blood on his cheek.  He knew better than to think this was a form of happiness, that shit didn’t exist.  This was relief.  Yes, it was time indeed.

He dropped the pack and made his way to the auditorium.  The assembly was probably under way by now.  He had wanted to do this in private, but something deep inside urged him to do it in front of a crowd.

“I’ll give them something to post,” he whispered as he opened the back door to the stage.  The darkness calmed him.  He took off his shirt, then his shoes. He parted the closed curtain with the knife, and stepped into the blinding light on stage.

At first, all he heard was a booming voice echoing through the speaker system, but then came the hushed whisper from hundreds of students.  His eyes had begun to adjust to the light when he heard Eric’s telltale voice shout out.

“Look! It’s Terri the Fairy!”

Laughter filled the vast space.  One last tear fell; it went unnoticed by the crowd.  The laughter continued until a cheerleader in the front row screamed something about him having a knife.  Her scream was followed by a few more, but the hushed awe from most of the students was enough to encourage him.

Terri pressed the sharp edge of the knife deep into his left wrist and slowly drew it upward until it reached the inner part of his elbow.  Bright blood flowed from the gaping wound; his bright eyes stared out over the sea of confused faces.  He took the blade and pushed it into his shoulder until it hit bone, then cut downward through his chest until the blade was sunk deep into his abdomen.  Blood started to pool around him, its darkness reached outward.

The spectators, usually keen on gore, were at a loss for words.  Some screamed, some retched, but all remained in their place as a new reality debuted before their eyes.  Terri started to feel weak as his heart quickly pumped blood from his body, he also felt peace deep within.  Peace and something else–something less kind.

Terri sensed movement at his core.  It was growing at an incredible rate, but it felt neither foreign nor strange.  The growth pressed against organs and caused him to purge the contents of his stomach, as well as his bowels and bladder.  He dropped the knife as the change touched his consciousness.

The continued growth started to bulge against his skin, press against his extremities; it fed on him internally.  Eldritch bones and musculature sprouted painfully as Terri grew.  Tentacles dug their way out the sides of his face; they tore at his flesh to birth the otherworldly being within.

Students woke from their stupor and fled; they trampled one another in blind terror.  Terri’s conscious melded with that of the Other, and he gloried in his becoming.  He also hungered.  Nearly ten feet tall and growing quickly, he reached out for the nourishment that floundered nearby.

Clawed hands covered in a new and loathsome skin plucked the writhing teens from the floor, piled them within reach of the tentacles.  He smelled their fear and knew true ecstasy.  The tentacles grabbed the students and stuffed them into his now colossal maw; one, two, three at a time.  Their screams mixed with the sound of crunching bone. It was musical perfection.

His growth had just started, fed by dozens of the two-legged cattle he’d already consumed, but he found it difficult to move within the confines of the auditorium.  He emerged from the remains of the building as it seemingly shrunk beneath his reckless growth.

Terri gave corrupt birth to the profane, was one in heinous thought with the abyss, and demanded eternal retribution.  Words poured from his mouth with blasphemous splendor and filled the air with dread.

“Wgah’nagl fltagn.”

Arcane incantations of power echoed across the doomed city as he opened the way for many more of his kind.  Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep moved through monstrous dimensions beyond time and entered a world that would soon know despair.  Oblivion was not his to experience, but his to create.

 

~ Zack Kullis

© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.

Scampi

“Is this love real?” she asks.

Sitting on a bench near the other end of the room, her words are unmistakable, magnified by the reverence and strange acoustics of the museum. He turns from the glass case filled with the desiccated husks of seahorses to look at her. Her hair is down, her glasses bright. She’s wearing the coat he bought her last winter. It’s not quite winter yet but the evenings are getting cooler. It is evening now. At least, it must be. They’ve been in here for a hundred years already, it seems.

“Obviously,” he replies. “Duh. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”

At the sound of his voice, she looks up. “Not you, silly.” She raises the paper cup to her mouth and sips. “Arabica. Instant pick-me-up.”

“I’m an instant pick-you-up.”

“You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”

“Hey.”

With a lingering glance at the contents of the cabinet, he walks the short distance to where she’s sitting. She pretends not to watch him as he approaches but he sees her peek sideways. She taps the cup as he takes a seat next to her, her short nails making a hollow sound against the cheap Styrofoam.

“I’ve missed you,” he says.

“From the other side of the room?”

“If you’d just think about moving in…”

She taps faster, then stops altogether. The silence is sudden and alarming. He hadn’t realised how big the room was, how empty. They haven’t seen anyone else in probably ten minutes. He wonders how much longer they have to spend here.

“What were you looking at over there,” she asks, “in the cabinet?”

He catches her peering his way again, decides to play her at her own game. The rows of cases in front of them are too far away and the objects inside too small for him to make them out. He finds himself studying the ceiling. “Why do you ask, when you already know?”

“You were looking at the seahorses,” she tells him.

“Yes.”

“How did they look?”

“Like they’d crumble to dust if you touched them.”

“Don’t touch them. Anything else?”

From where he is sitting the exhibits are tiny flecks, almost invisible on the glass shelf. He recalls them, their withered tails, needlepoint snouts, eyes like used cigarette cherries, ashen and black. Beside him, she shifts, her hand finding one of his knees; he realises she’s watching him.

“Thirsty,” he says.

She stares at him a second longer, then laughs. He loves her smile and her face when she laughs. There isn’t much poetic going on his head but he knows what he loves and that is it. Smiling back at her, he buries his head into her shoulder.

“You’re an idiot,” she says.

“Can we go soon?” Muffled by her coat, his voice is small and thick.

“Had enough of me already?”

He wraps his arms around her but does not remove his face from her neck. She smells of perfume – he couldn’t say which – and still a little salty, from the beach yesterday. He loves the beach, almost as much as he loves her. Yesterday had been a good day.

“This place creeps me out.”

“I think it’s romantic.”

“What’s romantic about shrivelled-up fish? I swear I feel like I’m hanging out inside a shipwreck.”

“Come on, seriously?”

He shakes his head, some of her hair falling across the back of his neck.

“The memories,” she says. “The feeling attached to the objects. The objects themselves, so small, so fragile. Your delicate seahorses. The secrets. The stories.”

“Which stories?”

He feels her set the paper cup down before she moves, her weight shifting underneath him. She leans carefully to one side and stands, lifting him with her. She is not strong enough to carry him and yet she moves him with the lightest suggestion.

Taking his hand, she leads him to one of the cabinets. Like the others, it is made of glass. Like the others, a spotlight shines down over it. It is a bright, impersonal space, considering the nature of the objects housed within. He almost thinks he understands what she means.

“Is this love real?” she breathes. He follows her pointed finger to a small item just below head-height. It is a ring. At least, it used to be. The years do not appear to have been kind to it, battering the metal, creating pocks and eroding away much of what might once have been a design. It is crusty and matte and covered in tiny discs, almost like it has been carved out of rock.

“Why does it look like that?”

“It’s a tentacle. Crafted in the likeness of one, anyway. No one knows where it’s from. There was a theory, but that’s just another name for a story, and there are already lots of those.”

He is watching the ring and the reflection of her face around it. She is still smiling, her glasses bright. The eyes behind them brighter. He doesn’t know what she is talking about but he loves that smile. He gives her hand a squeeze; she squeezes back.

“Where did they find it?”

“Washed up, technically, 1973. Inside a shark’s guts. The gulls were pulling ropes for their morning feast and some children spotted it, still red, still wet, sticking out the sand.”

She looks as beautiful with her glasses on as she does without. When she leans forwards, like she does now, her hair falls around her face. It is shoulder-length hair, dark but with red undertones, caught in the right light. With her free hand, she tucks a stray strand quickly behind one ear.

“Some say it was made by primitive island people. This story goes, they worshipped the sea, and the things that lived in it, so they carved jewellery that resembled them. Seeing the ring now, I can believe that. I can see the waves in its grooves, the strength in its shape, the beauty in its suckered likeness. I can see something divine in the brine and the blood and the cut of coral.”

“You really love this stuff, don’t you?”

She leans in closer and he moves with her. His face inches towards the glass, the coarse sea smell filling his nose again, and for a moment he too finds himself staring at the ring. He slides deeper, its grasp tightening, feels a hand through his hair, the suggestion of darkness filled with pale shapes and submarine depths. He realises he is breathing heavily.

“What happened to the island people?”

“No one knows, but I have a theory, professor.” She winks at him, and he feels himself stirring. Here, of all places, in this wreck of a museum! “I think they died. Thousands of years ago, swept away by a storm. The sea they worshipped gave them life, then just as quickly it took it away. Now that’s love.”

He stands there for several minutes while she admires the exhibit. His breathing steadies. His arm finds her waist and she stirs slightly, but no more. He wishes she looked at him the same way she does those antiques. He knows she’s interested. No, it’s more than that. She loves him. He’s certain. She just won’t admit it. He doesn’t know what that means.

“Come on, it’s getting cold and the table’s booked for eight.”

“It is getting cold, isn’t it? Did you see that?”

He looks over her shoulder as he helps her to button up. Sometime between sitting at the bench and checking out the display, the lights in the hallway have gone out. He hopes they haven’t been locked in. He hasn’t seen any staff but assumes they’d check every room first.

“Almost done. See what?”

“There.” She squints behind her glasses, then stiffens. He feels her tense bodily in his hands. “There.”

This time he sees it. A single light, hovering about head-height in the dark. It flickers intermittently, soft, dull pulses that fill him with a sense of contentment. It has to be a torch.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

The hallway swallows his words. He stares harder, wishes his eyes would adjust faster, but the flashes are playing games with his sight.

“Stop.”

He hears her behind him, throws an arm out protectively. “Stay back.”

The light is weak but there is something satisfying about its rhythm and the vague illumination it casts.

“I said stop!”

Gradually the light grows fiercer. Shadows squirm across the boards and up the walls. He smells the sea, gently at first, then the sudden rush of damp and decay. It had not smelled so strongly at the beach yesterday, amid the rock pools with the crabs. Already that seems like a lifetime ago.

It occurs to him that he is standing in the hallway. Her hand finds his, and he realises she is by his side. The light is right in front of them. It is not a torch; the thought is laughable now. It hangs in the air, swaying slightly, dimming, then glowing brightly. This close, he sees himself in its gelatinous mass, distorted but hand-in-hand with her. It has always been her. It is everything he could have wanted to see.

The light flickers, fading before their eyes. The darkness rushes in, then wavers again. His stomach turns at the smell, his trainer slipping on something wet. He could reach out and touch the light, if he wanted. It would be the easiest thing.

The orb begins to glow again, brightening, filling his eyes, and for the first time he sees behind it into the rubbery lips, the rows of teeth, the vast mouth that contains them.

As the light dulls, the mouth gapes open, wider, wider than he could have ever imagined.

Still smiling, he extends his hand into the darkness.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2016 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 19

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Chlorophyll
Joseph A. Pinto

Yes, your prize, your trophy, your prop for the world to behold. Framed by unflinching eyes, supported by hands unshaken. So vivid, your portrayal. Like the seasons, your dichotomy appreciated only by a clear lens and a distorted view. Yet the approaching tempest goes unnoticed; still the limbs go ravaged. Revel in the fall, revel in the winds that blow. Landscapes resculpted, reimagined by the inevitable. Yes, revel in the lie, for beneath the illusion, the splendor, remains a truth you cannot speak: you have broken the chlorophyll down. Life you present, while around you death rejoices all the while.


The Autumn Quietus
Lee A. Forman

The fresh, healthy colors turned, became the tones of decay. Dillon breathed deep the scent of rot with a complacent grin. He looked up at the trees, watched quietus sway in the cool breeze. He reveled in his hedonistic ritual; a yearly affair passed down through generations. Nothing gave him more pleasure. Harvesting the heads was a task he relished, but watching the skin turn from its once healthy pigment to greenish-blue—that gave him true joy. He sat and watched as leaves fell, waiting for the heads to follow. Human hair only held for so long after death’s claim.


These Eyes
Nina D’Arcangela

I stand in place riddled with unbridled terror; it quakes my bones as I gaze out upon this gentle glade. Think me a fool for my fear? I imagine you do. Through my shutter you are gifted a calm that races my blood, hear the soothing lap at water’s edge that I am deaf to, see beauty trapped in hues I cannot allow to blind these eyes. The serenity of yawning fall holds no sway over me, for though we view the same painted landscape, you see only what is captured, whereas I hear what rustles the brush behind me.


Long Gone
Craig McGray

It’s been so long since the rains poured down. My memory struggles to recall images from the past that are long gone from reality. The vivid bursts of color that once covered the landscape have become nothing more than bland blacks and grays. The lakes are now dried and shriveled like an old man’s face. We did this to ourselves but were too fucking stupid to do anything about it. Politicians gave us only twisted lies and half-truths and before we knew it, it was too late. May God help us all, at least the few of us that remain.


The Lake
Veronica Magenta Nero

Many have given their lives to cleanse the lake. Our children, our elderly mothers and fathers, their faces frozen with fear and sorrow, never looking back as they walk into the oil slick swamp. They waddled in knee deep, then waist deep, then they were whisked away underneath, the foul water bubbling over them. We had stripped all life from the earth and now we pay with our blood and bone. The lake turns golden, an expanse of light, the water fresh and clean, sustaining us for a while until it begins to darken and fester once more, demanding another.


Don’t You See?
Jon Olson

You must be out of your minds! We left our home because of drought. This place is no different! How do you expect us to survive? Farm it? The ground lacks nutrients, nothing grows. Eat from the trees? They are bare. Fish from the lake? It’s lifeless. Yet you want to settle here? Trying to make this work is a death sentence. No, I have not lost my senses. It’s you who are crazy for believing him! We must keep moving on… then follow him, you blind fools, follow him to your death. Don’t you see? We won’t survive here.


Autumnal Hunger
Zack Kullis

Biting wind stirred the sweet scent of autumn’s decay and ruffled its time-worn cloak. The old post creaked with his surprising heft as his black eyes, hidden underneath the straw-like hair, watched the approaching couple.

He dropped from his perch and knocked them both to the ground. The ancient being grabbed each by an ankle and started towards the hills. Their shrill cries were musical; a symphony of dread that pleased him. He would eat them both, every bit, and sleep until next autumn’s equinox brought the sound of falling leaves and bid his eternal hunger be sated yet again.


‘Squatch
Thomas Brown

This is his country: acres of primordial forest spanning the hilltops. Time has no meaning here, marked by nothing except the changing seasons and, sometimes, the intruders who cross his invisible border. It is autumn now. He smells it in the air: rich, rank. Feels it under the pads of his feet: slippery, cold. Deadwood cracks. The camp is up ahead. Mud finds the underside of his fingernails, mixes with the blood that sometimes matts his fur and clots between his teeth. He moves heavily, hunts quickly, leaves no survivors. This is his country and here his appetite is law.


The Painter
Christopher A. Liccardi

They saw the golds and reds and smelled the season in all its glory. I saw crimson and grey matter and smelled the gore; a photo negative of what everyone else witnessed.

Paint in blood; that is what I do. I painted the scene in the blood of those who came to ask me about my work. It wasn’t a needless act, no. Never think it. It was one of serenity. I took the canvas around me and colored it with the life’s blood of those who came to meet me. My next victim approached with a smile, unknowing, unsuspecting.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

I Hate Clowns

“I hate clowns,” Roy said flatly. Each year, he shelved his irrational fear of those fuckers right up until the end of September. Then, all the clown related stupidity resurfaced and he was forced to stare down his terror.

“C’mon, who hates clowns? You didn’t seem to mind the clown outfit I wore last weekend, as I recall,” Beth said, batting her eyelashes.

“That was a clown?” Roy asked incredulously. He’d thought she was dressed like a character from the super hero movie they’d gone to see a few weeks ago.

She slapped him jokingly and pinched his nipple while she smiled that teasing smile he loved so much. Roy grinned back, though his nipple stung like a bitch.

“Besides,” Roy said, “clown movies are nothing but half-naked women getting chopped up by psychos.”

“Not always. Let’s watch a movie with clowns in it,” she said, still smiling.

She was always a little crazy and a bit ‘out there’, but she must have completely lost her marbles to think she could charm him into this. Nothing she said or did could get him in front of a television with some psychotic asshole wandering around cutting people all to hell.

He turned his head to tell her but she was already up and moving toward the television.

“Wait!” he blurted in a panic. He didn’t want her to realize how afraid he really was. Beth was by far the most beautiful, sexy, sensual, and amazing woman he’d ever met. How would it look if she could sit through a horror film and he couldn’t?

She stopped, arched an eyebrow, and shimmied out of her jeans. Her top followed next as she pulled it over her head and let it drop to the floor. The red and black lace she wore underneath stole his breath. All thought washed away as he pictured the two of them spending the next few hours not watching a clown movie.

He stood up and reached for her but she stepped back, dodging his advance.

“Not yet. I want to slip into something first. Think of this as therapy; I promise you’ll be completely cured when we’re done.” She winked at him.

She eased him back toward the couch, grabbing his ass as she did. The back of his knees struck the cushion as Beth pushed him down into his seat. Leaning over, she kissed him long and slow. When the kiss broke, she told him the movie was already in the player, then strutted out of the room.

“How did you…” he blundered.

“I was going to watch it anyway. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. Besides, you might be a bit too preoccupied to be afraid,” she remarked with a giggle.

Roy clicked on the television and surfed channels for a moment before picking up the DVD remote and hitting the power button. Sports news was replaced with an image of a terrified woman screaming and covering her face as she ran. Some fat dude, shirtless except for a black rubber apron, was chasing her down with a chainsaw. He wore a red clown wig and white face paint. His features had been drawn in with exaggerated black grease pencil and he his grin was full of sharp teeth.

Roy had second thoughts about watching the movie. Beads of sweat popped up on his temples as he squirmed in his seat. He loosened his necktie and unbuttoned his collar, but it didn’t help.

He reached for the remote, wanting to turn off the movie when he heard Beth giggling; she was coming back into the room. Time to man-up for this beautiful woman and deal, he thought.

“I know this is going to be hard for you,” she said with another tinkling of laughter as she walked up behind him, “but I want you to know how pleased I am that you’re doing this for me.”

Roy began to stand, he wanted to see her, but her hands pressed down on his shoulders. He sat again and tried to crane his neck around to see her. He wanted one more look before they started the damn movie.

“Not yet, lover. Keep your eyes on the screen and if you get scared, think of this.” She flung a black and red lace bra into his lap.

He grabbed for it, feeling the warmth of the material. He wasn’t going to like the movie, but thought he might enjoy movie time nonetheless. He smiled.

Beth turned off the lights and Roy pretended his heart rate went up solely because of her lingerie.

“Hit play, lover,” she said and giggled from behind. She was enjoying this. He did as she instructed and eased back into his seat.

As the movie started, the screaming woman from the promo shot was having what appeared to be a normal day. A few minutes later, her car broke down and she called for the local tow company.

Beth played with his hair and whispered in his ear. He couldn’t understand what she said, but the fear he expected to feel was replaced by slowly building excitement. Maybe the clown movie wasn’t going to be that bad after all.

Predictably, night arrived before the tow truck on-screen – the man in the cab was the same man from the promo sans chainsaw, face paint and pointed teeth.

Beth continued to play with his hair and bite his ear lobe while the movie played on. Roy reached for her several times but she kept slipping away, still giggling.

All at once, the woman on TV was screaming; Roy jumped. She ran down a dark street in the middle of nowhere, one shoe off. The fat fucker from the truck, now dressed in the rubber apron, was tearing after her with the smoke-belching chainsaw. The buzzing sound was so loud it must have startled him awake. Had he dozed off? God, he hoped not.

Beth, who had been doing something behind him, stepped around the couch and in front of the screen.

“Welcome back, lover,” she said as she smiled. She was naked and Roy could see the outline of her breasts in the dim light coming from the TV. He moved to get up, but she quickly straddled him and kissed his lips. Her face felt greasy like she was wearing too much makeup. Maybe she’d donned that sexy costume she’d worn for him the other night…

Roy smiled and kissed her painted lips. She bit his in return and he pulled away sharply.

“Beth, dammit, that hurt.”

She didn’t say anything, but let out another of those purring giggles; it was starting to annoy him. She seemed to laugh at everything that got under his skin.

Roy ran his tongue over his lip and tasted blood.

“My frigging lip is bleeding.” Roy tried to free his hands so he could find out how badly it was split.

“I know,” she said. He could feel the whisper of a smile dance across her lips.

“I’m done with this game, Beth. If you want to mess around, I’m all for it, but that last bite hurt.” He could hear the whine in his own voice; he doubted they’d be having sex tonight. He wanted to get the lights back on and turn off the television.

He reached for the remote but Beth grabbed his hand. She kissed his inner wrist, letting her lips caress the soft flesh of his arm. She stopped at his bicep. Roy’s anger faded as he closed his eyes and drifted on waves of seductive pleasure.

Just as he surrendered completely, searing pain ripped through his muscles. Beth was tearing his arm to shreds with what felt like some sort of garden tool from Hell.

He screamed.

Beth screamed along with him, then lapped up at the blood pouring down his forearm.

Roy struggled to get out from under her but was pinned in place. It felt like a three hundred pound weight rested on his chest.

Roy thrashed around and tried to free his other arm; his leg connected hard with the coffee table.

“What the fuck?” Roy screamed. He glared up at her dimly lit silhouette trying to understand what was happening. Beth just giggled and started on his chest. She held an insanely large knife that she continually nicked him with as she cut the buttons from his shirt one by one. Her smile looked utterly demented.

“You know how in those movies it’s always the man that gets to be the clown and it’s the woman who’s always chopped into little pieces?” She started to stab at his chest, thrusting the blade in about two or three inches, then pulling it back out again. Each time it pierced his skin, Roy screamed louder and her laughter intensified.

“In this movie, it’s the other way around.” She cackled, her face now fully distorted. She stopped long enough to lick blood off the tip of the knife before she began another round.

Roy struggled to breathe. He gasped, feeling like a fish yanked out of water. His face began to turn a deep purple as blood dripped from the corners of his mouth.

“Oh dear. I must have hit a lung… let’s see what kind of damage I did with my little knife,” Beth said, tittering in his face. She shifted her weight down a bit and pulled open the tattered remains of his shirt and tie.

“If you died too fast, nobody would ever watch the movie. We need to make it last a little longer,” she said and produced a scalpel. “I know this hurts, but I have to admit, it excites the hell out of me, if you know what I mean, lover.” She winked at him.

Roy tried to scream as she drew the blade down his chest to his belly button. He was helpless to do anything other than watch as she ripped his chest open.

“I can see your heart, Roy. You said I could have it, right?” She giggled insanely while she tugged at his rib cage.

As the sound of her deranged laughter peeled through his brain, his last thought fired—I fucking hate clowns.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

Scattered Ramblings

The Process

Plunging the blade deep into the abdominal cavity, I drive it upward until I hit the xiphoid process. Twisting slightly to my right, I skirt the sternum and slice through the costal cartilage attaching the ribs to the breastplate. Careful not to puncture the internal organs, I stop my upward motion at the manubrium. Drawing the sharpened metal along the topside of the upper-most rib, I listen to the harsh breathing. Returning to the original point of entry, I pause, then again thrust into and through the abdominal wall, swiftly separating the flesh and muscle from the body’s left side.

Laying the knife on the tray, I reach down and peel the cavity open with a great deal of force. A slight groan escapes amongst the pops and rending sounds as the connective tissue still in place rips away to reveal the fluttering heart. A marvelous thing the human body, a machine designed by the hand of a master; a fragile balance struck with a sadistic keeper.

~ Nina D’Arcangela


An Ensemble of Worms

Barbara reveled in the music of suffering—the most classical of symphonies. The limbless, mutilated houses for the soul writhed in their own excreta as they sang agonized tunes. Such instruments, she thought, my delightful chorus of worms.

She walked through the field of screaming torsos wrapped in barbed wire. She inspected each one to see that it contributed to the melody her beautiful creatures conducted together. If they became too weak to vocalize their pain, only then would she cut the chords from their throats. Tired and dried up notes had to be snuffed out to maintain quality; anything less would be unacceptable to her listeners.

She wondered what played in their heads, if they remembered her face before the eyes were removed. She liked to think so; it spawned a warm satisfaction between her thighs to think of all those minds imagining her at once.

Innumerable red eyes blinked in the darkness of the tree line. They’re watching, she thought, bemused by her audience. They always watch.

At the edge of the field she came across a straggler who’d rolled himself away from the rest of the group. She tied a rope around his neck as he gummed her arm with a toothless mouth.

“You silly thing,” she said with a laugh. “Why do you think everyone has their teeth removed?”

She dragged the body to reunite it with the rest. After undoing the rope, she pressed her foot against his chest. Razor sharp barbs sunk deeper into his flesh and got him singing again.

Pleased with her work, she sat on the damp grass and stared into the forest. The glowing eyes blinked out one by one, her congregation of shadows lulled to sleep with the musical wailing of her ensemble of worms.

~ Lee A. Forman


Eat

Eat.  Eat.

Granny always told me to eat.

She looked after me, Granny did, the only real family I knew.  I had one, a family that was, but Poppa never paid me no heed, caught up in better things the way he always was.  And Momma, she wanted herself a pretty boy she could preen after, but I never wanted no part of that.  So Momma turned her back on me, except when it came time to bring the belt down.  She gave me the whippings cause Poppa couldn’t be bothered, so busy the way he was.  I honestly can’t remember when they disowned me, when they kicked me out.

Granny took me in.  She looked after me, became my family, my everything.  She did me right, so I made sure to do her proud.  Good woman, my Granny, doing the little things, the big things.  One thing she loved to do for me, and that was cook.

Eat.  Eat, she always told me.

So I did.

My Granny, I learned a few things from her.  Wise, wise lady, she was.  Don’t know where she got it from.  She talked to Grandpa more times than not, asking for strength.  I never did meet my Grandpa.  He came home from the great war in a box.  Pieces of him, anyhow.  Still, I guess he listened, cause she’d ask for that strength, then I’d see her, eyes wider than the muffin tops she’d bake me.  She’d move round the house fast, like she’d been plugged into an outlet.  Granny, always doing little things, the big things for me.  What else could I do but make her proud?

Granny always told me to eat.

I was a big kid.  Then I became a bigger kid.  Granny, she told me pay no mind to those jokes, those catcalls from the other kids.  They don’t know nothin from nothin, she’d say to me.  They make fun cause you big?  Pfft.  They should wait and see, wait and see.  One thing about my Granny, she taught me to take the high road.  Taught me there’s no use in messing with the low.

Something else I learned about my Granny, she had a nasty streak about her.  Never put it on me, mind you, but I could see it, right there, crossing her face like a storm in late July.  She’d get still, real still, like a stray cat when it knows you seen it walking through your yard.  She’d only get that way when I’d ask if she thought my folks were ever going to come back for me.  If Momma and Poppa were ever going to take me back home.

You are home, she’d spit from her lips, then get to her cooking, mixing and blending, talking to Grandpa all the while.

Eat.  Eat, she always told me, so I did.

I came in from school one day.  Took awhile.  Walk wasn’t far but I couldn’t move my legs all that fast.  Thunder thighs, the kids all called me, but Granny, she just said I got legs of the gods.  Came in, found Granny waiting, her face real long, those eyes of hers still wide as muffin tops but black as if they’d been baked too long.  Baked until burnt.  You hungry, boy, she said to me, you hungry, cause I know you study hard and them books you carry weigh a ton.

Granny moved to a big old pot on the stove, started stirring and stirring.  Stirring through something thick.  Real thick.  The counter, her apron, all covered in sauce.

Been thinkin on this, she said to me, been thinkin on this a lot.  Me and your Grandpa agree.  We ain’t got no right, ain’t got no right keepin you from your folks.  I ain’t gonna do that no more.  No moreYou can have your folks.

You can have your folks.

I looked at my Granny’s face.  That late July storm rolled over her, then like that it was gone.  I didn’t know what to say.

Granny motioned to that big old pot.

Eat.  Eat, she always told me.

So I did.

~ Joseph A. Pinto


Of Course I Agreed

I peeled back the nail on my thumb because he told me to. Tears streamed down my cheeks and pain like I’d never felt before coursed up my arm. I wanted to scream, but he told me I couldn’t. So I didn’t.

When the fingernail was off, I handed it to him. He licked it, then placed it in his mouth with a smile.

Next, he told me to take off my glasses and move my face closer to his. I wanted to squirm away, but couldn’t find the willpower. I removed my glasses and did as he asked. I extended my neck as far as it would go. He licked first one eye then the other.

He said he liked brown eyes.

He turned his head slightly and began sucking on my left eye. At first the pressure was slight but then it intensified and I could feel my eye starting to move in the socket. Again, ripping pain flashed through me, but all I could do was leak tears. The sucking sound from his mouth got louder, then ‘pop’.

He said he liked my heart and asked if he could have it. Of course I agreed. I couldn’t disagree if I wanted to.

The creature lifted a single clawed finger and ran it down my chest. The sensation was cold at first, then the burning started. In an instant, I thought I was on fire.

He put his hands on my chest and began to pull it apart. Anguish like nothing I’d ever felt before wracked my body. I wanted to die. He asked me if I wanted to see it, my hear that was. Of course I agreed.

Death came much slower than I hoped it would.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi


One Bullet Left

Jake’s family lay quietly in the corner of the room, piled in a heap like unfolded laundry. The house hadn’t been this quiet in years. The .45 in his trembling hand felt heavier than the guilt he knew he would carry for the rest of his life. No matter.

You can’t undo what’s been done, he thought.

With only one bullet left, his choice was clear. Raising the .45 in his right hand and the nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his left, he winced and swallowed the last gulp until the burning subsided in his throat. Click.

BANG!

The gun fell to the floor, closely followed by the empty bottle which shattered when it struck the tile.

Jake stumbled his way out of the room, his bare feet crunching in the shards of glass.

“I never liked that dog.”

~ Craig McGray


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016

Gus

Muttering to himself as he always does, ole Gus shuffled to the basement door, pulled it open, and carefully descended the barely lit stairs. Once in the subterranean cavern – as he liked to imagine it – he began searching the dusty shelves for boxes marked ‘Halloween’ in Ester’s neat, tidy handwriting. God rest her soul. Given what a pain in the ass his wife had been in life, he’d never thought he would miss her nagging so much now that she was gone. Oh well, done is done, can’t dwell on the past. That’s the way he’d always lived his life, no reason to go changing things now. If he could just get that damned Priest from their church to stop ‘dropping in’, he could finally catch up on his shows. That old coot would do just about anything to get a little extra change on the Sunday plate. Gus couldn’t see any other reason why the man kept coming by to console him; always bringing casseroles, and baked this or homemade that, from strange women he’d never even met. Yup, it had to be that Sunday Salvation savings account he kept making deposits into. No other reason for it. She’d been dead for, Christ – what was it, three, four weeks now; it was time to stop treating him like a lost mute-child found wandering the streets! These people just didn’t know how to keep to themselves and quit meddling in his affairs. Well, at least he was eating well. Ester, God rest her soul, was a fair looking woman with many fine qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. Nope. She must have been looking the other way when that train went whistling by. Oh well, done is done.

Rooting around the musty shelves in the dim light, Gus finally came across what looked like the right boxes. ‘Course, they were behind the ‘X-Mass’ boxes; now he’d have to move those first. Speaking of ‘X-Mass,’ that was something he’d always wondered… why spell it with two S’s on the end? Christmas was spelled with one S, and he couldn’t see the Arch Diocese endorsing X-Priests, like X-Men, so X-Masses were probably out of the question. Now that would be a service he wouldn’t mind donating to – hell, they could charge admission. Those money grubbing, wafer toting, alcohol peddling Men of the Cloth zipping around with special powers… that would be a show! What, no change for the plate? Father Laser Eye, incinerate that cheap son-of-a-bitch. Zap! Ha! Ahhh, well, it would probably be more like Father Lazy Eye with those clowns. Anyway, speaking of clowns, if he didn’t stop imagining The Flying Priest-capades in his head, he’d never get the lawn set up for tomorrow night. And Ester, God rest her soul, wouldn’t have that at her home. Nope. Better get back to gettin’ to it if he was finally going to get back at those little shits for the years of fucking with her lawn.

A few hours later, he’d managed to drag all the boxes and loose pieces of seasonal ornamentation up from the basement and out onto the porch. Looking around at the leaves cluttering the front yard, Gus figured there was no sense in raking them; they added to the ambiance. Plus his back was way too sore for that kind of manual labor, especially considering what was still to come. Yup. Ester, God rest her soul, was going to be proud of his efforts this year; and whether she was too kind-hearted or lady-like to admit it, she’d enjoy the vengeance he had planned for those crap-faced teenagers. Ha! Well, time to break out the cob-webbing, and get the decorating over with.

Gus worked long into the night, waving to passers-by as they called out a hello, taking a break only to sit and eat the latest dish of whatever-you-call-that-stuff the Priest brought by. To any and all watching, it seemed the kindly old widower was going about making his home as inviting as he could for the pip-squeaks who would come mooching for candy tomorrow night. Sometime around 10:30 pm, he placed the final prop in its honored and very conspicuous place. It was the most realistic, most expensive severed head he and Ester, God rest her soul, had collected. It was really a bit too pricey for them, but from the moment she saw it, there was no talking sense to her – she simply wouldn’t leave the store without it. He’d spent the last several years sitting up awake on All Hallows’ Eve just to protect that one piece from the neighborhood vandals. They’re just kids having fun, Ester, God rest her soul, would always say. Kids, my ass, he always thought. Lighting his last cigarette before heading inside to wash up and sleep for a few hours, Gus wondered just how much fun they’d be having this year. After a few drags, he flicked the butt onto his neighbor’s lawn, picked up the prized latex head, and trudged inside to catch a little shut-eye.

At 2:00 am, his alarm clock sounded. After splashing cold water on his face and shaking off the sandman, Gus got down to the real business of this year’s decorating.  Collecting his shovel and pickax from the shed out back, he shambled his way around to the front lawn. He might be an old geezer, but years of working in the mill had hardened him into something much different than most people thought. He was a smart man, one who knew how to foster good will and empathy, but one who also knew when it was time to use his strengths to his advantage. Making his way to the spot where the prized head would sit later that evening, he tossed down the shovel and began breaking up the dirt on his front lawn.

Back inside, he made his way to the shower, cleaned himself up, then cooked a hearty breakfast of poached eggs, instant grits, bacon, maple sausage links, and six slices of toast. Just like Ester, God rest her soul, used to make… well, maybe a little better, but don’t tell her that.

Sitting on his front porch that afternoon and evening, Gus dutifully rewarded all the little children with their hands held out begging for candy. As the night wore on, he was sure to keep an eye on that ghoulish head, and all the little bastards who had their eye on it, too. He knew that one of them would come back and make a play for it well after everyone was asleep. With all the wee ones home by 9:00 pm, it was just a matter of waiting the right amount of time. By 11:30 pm, Gus had been alone on his porch for an hour and a half without seeing another soul. Giggling to himself and saying a silent prayer that Ester, God rest her soul, was watching, he began his own Halloween fun! Tucking the latex head inside the house, he slid the board covering the hole he’d made in the early hours of the morning out of the way and tossed it under the porch, hiding the evidence of his deceit among the other debris stored there. Sitting down on the lawn, Gus dangled his legs over the opening for just a moment before he shimmied his way into the ground. Having left one arm free, he scooped the loose dirt and leaves that had concealed the board onto his broad shoulders, then worked his arm into the dirt as well. Buried up to his neck, Gus stood in the tight confines of the vertical grave he’d dug earlier and waited. It didn’t take long.

Judging it to be about half past midnight, he heard a rustling sound, and the drunken whispers of the aforementioned idiots approaching. Holding dead still, eyes closed, he waited and listened.

“Damn man, it looks so real!”

“Of course it looks real, dick-head, that’s why it’s such a great grab for this year’s scavenger hunt. Plus that pain-in-the-ass isn’t sitting on the porch guarding it like he usually is.”

“Show some respect, man. The dude just lost his wife. My dad comes by here with food and shit from the church cronies like every night.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he does it out of respect. He’s just hoping the old fuck leaves his money to the parish.”

“Whatever, asshole. Just grab it so we can get the hell out of here before someone sees us.”

The sound of footsteps grew closer as the leaves crunched in his ears. Gus felt the warmth of the little bastard’s hands nearly touching him.

“You sure the coast is clear?”

“Yeah, man. Just hurry the fuck up and grab it!”

Sensing the impending hands closing around his head, Gus’s eyes shot open as quickly as his jaw. He’d taken the time to file his teeth to razor sharp points while he’d waited inside. In one fluid motion, he turned and snapped his mouth closed on the arm of the fuck-wad trying to steal his head.  His teeth sliced clean through the connective muscle and sinew at the boys elbow; as soon as the kid yanked backward, his forearm detached with a sickening squelch. They all started to scream like the little piss-ants they were. Blood spurted everywhere, making Gus’s head really look like the latex gem. As the teens ran screaming for their lives, Gus spit the arm out toward the bushes. Cackling with maniacal laughter, shreds of fabric and gristle still clinging to his teeth, Gus shouted, “See Ester, God rest your ever lovin’ soul, I found the perfect prop to finish our display!”

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved

Maxwell’s Cellar

“Brett, wake up.”

His voice echoed, came to my ears from great distance.

“Wake up, you worthless slag.”

Cracks of light burned my eyes. Slowly they grew until I saw the familiar boots of Sam Brooks. Those stupid fucking skull buckles… Peculiar how my first thought lent itself to something so unimportant.

He grabbed my collar and pulled me from the floor. “Come on, you shit, we’re going to see the boss.”

My attempts at a response led to no success. Throat dry, lips cracked, desperate for water—I couldn’t even croak. Not that I knew what the fuck I would say. I had no idea where I was and little memory of how I got there. Something about a bar and a yellow neon light; I’m pretty sure it was shaped in the name of some cheap beer.

Sam dragged me down the hall, jeans riding along the splintered wood floor. The dark stains didn’t instill comfort about where I was headed. They spoke of bad things, blood spilled.

His fist against the door thundered in my ears. Three hard knocks and the door opened. Sam dragged me in and dropped me on the floor at the foot of an old metal desk.

“So here he is,” Maxwell said. “Where ya’ been? You know I hate when I have to look for someone. It just gets to me.”

Sam kicked me with his stupid fucking boot. “I found him at the bar on East Main,” he said.

Maxwell laughed. “Figures.”

“He was all liquored up and ready for the taking.”

“So you didn’t give Sam here much trouble then, did ya’ little fella.”

“No, Boss,” Sam said. “No trouble at all.”

“That’s good. That’s very good.” Maxwell shook his head, took a half-smoked cigar from his ash tray, and lit it.

With great effort I managed to cough out a few words. “What am I doing here?”

They laughed at my question.

“I think he’s a bit confused,” Sam said, still chuckling.

“Won’t be for long.” Maxwell pulled deep on his cigar and blew a cloud of smoke in my face. “You took my money from Bobbi. Now why would you go and do something like that?”

I tried to focus, tried to remember who the hell he was talking about. I repeated the name in my head until it lost meaning.

“Come on, Brett,” Sam said. “Just admit what you done.”

“Bobbi?” I asked. “She’s the one with the scar on her cheek, isn’t she?”

“Well look at that. His memory is starting to come back.” Maxwell sat up from his chair and walked around the desk. He grabbed my hair and lifted my head, looked me in the eyes. “Why’d you take my money?”

“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t take any money.” I couldn’t remember whether I did or not, but it didn’t seem like something I would do.

“Oh, you took it, alright,” Maxwell said. “Bobbi wouldn’t lie to me. Isn’t that right, Sam?”

“Damn right, Boss.”

“Now you gotta pay for what you done. And a few black and blue marks aren’t going to cut it. Are they, Sam?”

“No, sir. Not even close.”

I knew I was a scumbag. Who didn’t? But I was pretty sure I didn’t take any money, not from Maxwell.

“Take him to the cellar,” Maxwell said.

“Jesus, Boss. Isn’t that a little harsh?”

The uncertain tone in Sam’s voice spoke of something more horrible than I could imagine. He had an iron stomach and no conscience. The wavering of his words told me it was something even he wasn’t going to enjoy. And that terrified me.

Sam tied my hands behind my back and lifted me off the floor. He dragged me back through the hallway and outside into the alley. Normally that would be where it ended, with a bullet to the head. But I knew they had something more sinister in mind.

He opened the back door of his old Chevy and threw me in. I heard the engine roar to life and he drove with a heavy foot. I watched familiar streets go by until we ended up in an unfamiliar place. We must have traveled a few miles without seeing a single house.

The car stopped and the engine went silent.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said.

It was that moment reality became apparent. Sam probably never apologized to anyone his entire life, especially not to someone like me. But he did, and by the sound of his voice he meant it. The sadistic bastard was actually sorry for what he was about to do.

I thought back on my life; years flashed by in moments. I saw things I’d done and it put a sour taste in my mouth. I’d been a good for nothing piece of shit since I was able to raise my middle finger. But if Sam felt sorry for me I didn’t deserve what was coming.

He dragged me out of the car and walked me toward an old wood shack surrounded by dark forest. Few stars shined through the canopy above. My guts felt like they were about to come out of my ass.

Sam stopped at the door and stood motionless. He took keys from his pocket and looked at them for a while before undoing the padlock and pulling me inside. We descended stairs that went down into the pit of the Earth. At the bottom a pale yellow light glowed.

I heard something move and Sam jumped. It was then I realized why Sam had an issue with what Maxwell ordered—even he was afraid.

“What’s down there?” I asked, my voice barely able to formulate the words. “What the fuck is it? Just tell me!”

Sam ignored my pleas and took a deep breath as we got to the bottom of the stairs. A wood bar stool sat in the center of the cellar. The yellow light came from a neon sign just like the one at the bar, with that same logo for cheap beer, the one I sat next to most nights of my shitty adult life.

Sam pushed me toward the stool. He kept me at arm’s length, keeping his hand on my back. He forced me to sit and tied my hands and feet to the wooden legs.

Black, stringy appendages shot out from a dark corner of the room and latched onto my skin. Dozens of them stuck all over my body. It was as if they each contained thousands of tiny teeth that chewed through my clothes and bit down on every nerve receptor within their vicinity. Intense pain flooded through me like electricity. Whatever it was could not be seen. It was blacker than the emptiness of space, something that didn’t just absorb light, but pulled it completely out of existence.

A foul looking tube crawled along the floor like a serpent. Its slime-covered surface glistened in the yellow light. It worked its way up my leg, pulsating and releasing a nauseating odor. The intestine-like appendage entered my mouth and forced a slick mucus down my throat. I gagged against it but it flowed like a fucking river. I felt my own vomit forced back into my gut. It was feeding me, feeding me so it could keep me alive for who knows how long while it suckled on my flesh.

“I just wanna let you know something,” Sam said as he backed away toward the stairs.

My eyes rolled in his direction.

“It was me. I took the money.”

∼Lee A. Forman

© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Into The Blue

“Hello there,” a man’s voice says.

I open my eyes and realize I’m standing on a pier. Snow lies in small, shoveled heaps along the edges and the sky is a cloudless grey. It’s cold yet I feel nothing.

“I bet you’re wondering why you’re naked?”

Looking down I see that the voice is right but feel no need to cover myself up. Turning to my right, I see him.

He’s an older man with thin, white hair combed to the side. Thick rimmed glasses rest upon his nose magnifying his green eyes.

“My name’s Horton,” he says extending his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Herman Trotter.”

“How do you know who I am?”

“There’s no easy way to say it so I’ll just come out with it. You’re dead.”

I blink twice. “Dead?”

“Unfortunately. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Thinking back, I easily find the memory. “I was filling my truck up with gas.”

Horton nods and says, “While you were filling your truck, two rival gangs got into a shootout. A bullet ricocheted off the pavement and penetrated your skull just behind your right ear. You were dead before you hit the ground.”

I take the information in stride, knowing that it’s true. Looking at the pier, snow and the sky, nothing here seems alive, myself included.

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked yet,” Horton says.

“Asked what?”

“If you’re in Heaven or Hell.”

“I’m an… was an atheist. I’d never given much thought to where I would end up.”

Horton laughs and says, “Some atheists are like that. You may not believe in a god but you still have a soul and when your physical body expires, your soul has to go somewhere.”

“Where exactly is that?”

He places his hand on my back between my shoulder blades and gently ushers me down the pier. “To the Blue.”

For the first time since I arrived, I look out beyond the end of the pier.

It’s unbelievable.

Upon first glance it looks like the ocean with waves rolling about, gently lapping against rocks along the shore. I then notice it’s navy blue in color with streaks of aqua green and black cutting through the jelly-like texture at various intervals. Beneath the surface, flashes of white flicker like lightning.

“What is it?” My voice is barely a whisper.

“That, my friend, is the resting place for mankind’s atheist souls. Good or bad, they all come here in the end.”

I have a strong urge to leap off the pier into it.

“What’s your role in this?” I ask.

“I’m the administrator. It’s my job to keep track of who goes into the Blue.”

“How do you do that?”

Horton reaches into his inner coat pocket, pulling out a folded paper and gold pen. “Whenever someone new arrives, they must sign this registration before they go into the Blue.”

Although I don’t want to, I pull my eyes away from the Blue and look at him. “Is that it?”

Horton nods and says, “Alexander the Great asked me the same question before he went in and yes, that’s it.”

My eyes find their way back to the Blue while I reach out for the pen. Gripping it in my hand I barely manage to scribble my name along the dotted line.

“Very good,” Horton says. He folds the paper up and slides it back inside his coat. “Whenever you’re ready, you may jump.”

I’m already in the air falling towards the Blue before he gets the words out.

There is no splash.

The sensation of falling is instantly replaced by bliss. My eyes are open and while I don’t see anyone, I connect with them; with everyone in the Blue. Time stands still as I fully accept the Blue’s embrace.

Below me is a flash.

I don’t think much of it until the searing pain hits me.

We all cry out without making a sound.

Another flash flickers below, but closer.

And I see it.

Swimming amidst the Blue is a translucent eel-like shape with a large mouth. It emits a flash each time its mouth opens, exposing row upon row of teeth.

It’s taking bites out of the Blue.

I begin swimming… struggling towards the surface. When I finally break through, I cry out, “Horton!”

The old man is still standing on the pier and he looks down at me, puzzled.

“Why Mister Trotter,” he says. “Whatever is the matter?”

“What the hell is in here with us?”

I briefly slip below the surface but rise up again.

“We call them the Translucies.”

They’re eating us!

Horton laughs and says, “Well of course they are. How else do you expect us to maintain the maximum number of souls allowed in the Blue at one time?”

He begins saying something else, words I don’t hear as I slip below the surface; down into the Blue.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

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