Two Villages, Two Scholars

Two scholars finally get a chance for some field work to study the stone age cultures they’ve been reading about for years in the abstract. A helicopter takes them into a remote region and drops them off. It’ll return for them in late evening.

The scholars quickly identify two local villages of interest. One sits high on the edge of a great cliff; the other lies in a deep gorge at the foot of the same cliff. The scientists are glad to be observing from a distance when they see that the village in the gorge is surrounded by bone fields of butchered creatures. They identify both animal and human skeletons. The cliff-side village, on the other hand, is remarkably tidy and clear of any kind of debris.

Towards evening, a radio message comes in from the city. A tremendous storm has arisen over the airfield and the retrieval helicopter can’t take off. The two men will have to camp for the night. The chopper will come for them in the morning.

The men had not planned to camp in the wild but they’d prepared anyway. They have a tent, some supplies, and a cook stove. Their main problem is to decide just where to lay their heads. Finally, they pitch their tent high on the cliff, near the tidy village and well away from the settlement in the gorge where they witnessed the bones. Exhausted from their exciting day, both men fall asleep easily. Neither of them awakes.

Soon, more bones are tossed over the cliff to join the debris pile below.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

The Exile

Earth hangs on the horizon, round and blue. Once, he was a god. Now he is an ice sculpture on a flat forever plain, alone in the terrible cold of the sidereal night. His eyes have become a waterfall of frozen tears. He knows it is his due for sleeping with a Native mortal, though she was of great beauty, body and mind as well. She could never have an equal.

If forgiven, he would know a sluggish awakening after a millennium. His children’s heels would drum the earth, rousing him from dreams of thunder and flame, calling him home. He would remember that insatiable hunger known only to certain gods. His mouth would salivate, recalling the feel of soft pale skin, so like the surface of grapes when peeled for the fruit within. Yet best of all delicious in his jaws, the marrow of the White Man’s bones.

~ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Butcher’s Choice

My lips whistle a tune as I lay strips over the rack. It’s fresh, clean; my product is made with loving care, always has been. The meat must dry, absorb the homemade smoke flavor. I’d claim its delectable wonders as my own, but the recipe has passed many generations. Only one ingredient comes at a price. My customers are picky, have been for ages. Beef, chicken, pork; none of what my storefront holds is proper to their taste. I must hunt the most taboo prey. Though I do this not in pleasure. The hungry things which come each month would surely satisfy their bellies elsewhere—upon the innocent, I fear. So I take what flesh is needed to keep them at bay.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Returning Sins

The smell of rot and dirt displaced the stale air in the bedroom and I tried not to choke on the overpowering stench. Huddled in a corner by the door, shivering in the sudden cold draft, I listened for the slightest sound, praying she was gone. Or that I would wake up from this nightmare.

Scritch, scritch.

There it was, the faint scratching noise against the wood. Fingernails scraping at the grain. I caught my breath.

No. I don’t want to hear it again. I don’t want…

Scritch, scritch. 

Only louder this time. Like an animal clawing to get inside. I whimpered and my stomach churned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” The words blurted out before I thought.

“Liar!” A horrid screech ripped from behind the door, shuddering through the air. “Bad, you were bad! Left me alone! Left me to die!”

A thundering crash sounded as something slammed the door, bending the wood. I jumped inside my trembling fear and hugged my knees, rocking on the cold dirty tiles of the room. I answered her shriek with my own, a long continuous wail, to drown out her voice, shut out the memories. Every pounding of the door ripped against my skin, racing my adrenaline, shredding my nerves.

“Stop it! Just go away! Leave me alone!” I screamed my terror to the empty room before burying my head between my knees.

“Like you left me?”

The quiet question hurt and frightened me more than her anger. “I didn’t mean it.” My words felt like a lie. Maybe they were. She didn’t answer, and the silence unnerved me. I babbled, “Why now? Why did you come back?”

“Secrets lost. Secrets found. So, I’ve come home, Mama.”

I whimpered. My lost little girl. My thrown away child. I thought I was done. I thought I escaped. “How is this possible?”

“Scared now, Mama? I was scared.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Another whimper and I hugged my knees tighter.

“No! Not sorry. Scared I’m back.” 

Bang! Something rattled the door.

“Why Mama, why?”

Bang! I saw the hinges rattle and bend.

“The closet was dark. I clawed to get out! You never came!”

My eyes closed slowly, my body trembling. Blocked memories surfaced, images of the horror I wrought. I shuddered. “What happened… I can’t… I was high, drugged out of my mind. You were too much for me to handle.”

“I loved you. You left me alone.”

The door frame convulsed, and splinters of wood flew across the room.

“I was so hungry! So thirsty! I cried, and I cried. I was all alone!”

Bang! 

The door slammed open, smacking hard into the wall, and she stood there, framed in the light. My little girl. She looked so thin, with red-rimmed eyes. Hate shone in those eyes.

“You killed me.”

I had no excuses left. Only fear and the truth. “Yes.”

She smiled, rotted teeth grinning at me like a demented thing. “They found me. My bones. Where you buried me. They’re coming for you.”

She laughed as she vanished, and I heard police sirens in the distance.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Long Walk

Her shoes walked about at night. She could hear them pace through the house all night, yet by morning they always returned to their place by the door, waiting for her.

One morning she came down to find the shoes dirty. More than dirty—ruined. The once-white sneakers were caked with mud, scratched as if from underbrush. She went through the house and found the back door standing open.

That night she brought the shoes to her bedroom and set them down beside her bed. Closing the bedroom door, she settled in to sleep. 

It wasn’t long before her shoes began to shuffle about, then pace the room. She rose and opened the door. The shoes hurried out; she followed close behind. Down the hall, the stairs, to the front door. The shoes shuffled about eagerly as she turned the latch, opened the door. They hurried out, but she hesitated at the threshold, her feet bare.

The shoes returned, organized themselves at her feet, waited. She slipped her feet inside. Before she could close the door behind her, the shoes had already carried her into the night.

The door stood open through the night, the morning, into the afternoon. It was only then that a neighbour came by. He poked his head inside, concerned. He pulled his head back, frightened. 

There by the door were her shoes. They were ragged from their long walk. Torn, scratched by stones and underbrush, they sat there. Stained through and through with blood, they waited.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Tiny Freezer

The delivery man dropped off the new freezer. Part of the store’s deal was to take the old one away. As he loaded it onto the truck, he asked. “How did it die?”

“Pardon?” asked Melissa.

“The freezer. How did it die? It isn’t very old.”

Weird, she thought. Might be something to do with store’s return policy. “The storm last week. The power went off. When it came back on, the freezer was bust.”

“Good to know.”

He loaded it onto his hand-truck.

“R.I.P. tiny freezer.”

He stroked its white surface, as he gently placed it into the delivery truck.

That was really creepy, Melissa thought, but decided not to say anything. He was a big guy and she was on her own. She quietly closed the front door and watched as he drove away.

A couple of days later she decided it was time to fill the new freezer with food. She went shopping and returned with a car full of groceries destined for the freezer. As she climbed the stairs from the basement, after filling it with her purchases, she noticed the front door of the house was open. She closed it, disquieted.

She entered the lounge and saw the delivery driver sitting on the sofa.

“I checked it. The condenser had blown. The manual clearly says to unplug it in case of a surge after a power cut. You didn’t.”

“What?”

“You could have had the condenser replaced you know, you could have fixed it, but no, you went ahead and had it destroyed. Euthanized. You killed it. You murdered that tiny freezer. It was only a baby. There can be only one punishment for that.”

He rose from the sofa.

Brian came home from work at six, to find the house dark and empty. Shrugging, he guessed Melissa must be out for a walk. There was no note and she didn’t answer her phone. He decided to get a head start on dinner. In the basement the floor was covered in thawing packs of food. Melissa had obviously forgotten to load the new freezer. He opened the lid and recoiled. His wife lay, curled in a foetal position, in the frozen compartment.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

By Proxy

“Remember how we act when we see a cross?” She was glancing at him, or at the reflection of him in her mirror as she applied her makeup. 

He nodded nervously. He looked so tiny and frail and she hoped he never got big. If he appeared strong, it would defeat her purpose.

“And if they sprinkle the water on you?”

He nodded again and mimicked convulsions.

“Good. Now come over here so I can look you over.”

She was lucky that he was so clumsy and bruised easily. He definitely appeared to be on the receiving end of something bad.  She had lavished in the attention from doctors and medical staff, but she was now after bigger game. 

She shooed the boy away and returned to her makeup. “I am having a hard time seeing…eyes all blurry.” She had been feeling strangely lately but was not going to let anything come between her and her big opportunity.

Even though the boy would be the star of the episode, she had to get her look just right. She felt that single-mother faced with a parent’s worse-case-scenario would endear her to Brent Carson. She had stalked his social media for nearly two years; he was very supportive of women’s causes and children’s charities. He was crazy about his dog, too, and she wished she had thought to adopt one to appear sympatico. Applying to be on the show had taken most of her energy and fabricating the back story with the garage sale music box had drained her of any creative impulses.

She wore a dress that was casual enough for an “everyday mom” but that showed off her assets. The boy was in his bed, thermostat turned down in his room, water strategically applied to his hairline and clothing to create the appearance of sweat. She was fighting her jitters when the doorbell rang.

Brent Carson blew past her, instructing the camera operators of how they should set up once they were in the boy’s room. She began to interrupt when Carson told her to wait where she was and that he would be back to debrief her.

She waited, as told, and listened to the sound of equipment being set up in her son’s room. She wondered if she appeared less attentive waiting downstairs while her son, her “whole world” as she had told producers, was upstairs with strange television people in his room. Then again, Carson had told her to wait in place and she wanted to convey to him that she was ready to do anything he asked.

Her uncertainty was put to rest by the sight of Carson descending the stairs. He was tall and broad shouldered with spiky hair that gave the appearance of tousled bed-head, but that she knew took time and consideration to craft. 

“You have traveled such a long way…can I offer you something?” She gestured to the table she had set up with fruit, crackers, tartare, and sushi.

Carson appeared baffled. “Do you normally eat…a lot of raw foods?”

She giggled in a way that she felt was charming. “Animal urges, you know.” She shrugged and batted her eyes, not to clear their blurriness, but in a flirtatious manner. “I was once told I was too pretty to cook.”

“Maybe later,” he mumbled and made his way back to the stairs. “You can stay here, or you can come to the bedroom, but you will have to promise not to intervene, no matter how bad it gets.”

“I will do anything you say,” she replied in what she thought was a seductive, throaty voice.

He stopped mid-climb. “Say that again…” 

“What?”

He paused. “Nothing. Might just be my imagination but you sounded…” He climbed the rest of the steps in silence without finishing his thought. She followed into the bedroom where her son was lying perfectly still on top of the sheets. A priest, or an actor dressed like a priest, was talking to the boy. She felt herself becoming irrationally angry at the sight of this exchange. A low growl escaped her throat.

Carson approached her. “You will have to be silent when we are filming.”

She mimed zipping her lips and slid back into the shadows of the room. The priest read some scripture and the boy laughed demonically, or maybe theatrically. She wished they had practiced that a bit more. The priest then took a small bottle from his vest and began sprinkling the boy. On cue, the boy cringed and convulsed; he writhed and hissed. Carson rolled his eyes at the camera man. 

“Good boy,” she whispered and gave her child the thumbs up. He was so good at following directions, it was his most endearing quality. That, and his willingness to please her. When he had been a baby, he had been quiet and compliant—the perfect wingman for a single-mom on the prowl for some male sympathy. When he had first begun school, he had followed her scripts to a “T.” He perfectly mimicked the excuses she had given him for the bumps and bruises that sometimes appeared on him. She couldn’t always control her temper, or that of the men she brought home, but her son was continuously willing to do whatever it took to defend her. 

Carson took the bottle from the priest and showed it to her. “It is fake…tap water…has he been to a therapist or received any other type of help?”

She tilted her head coyly. “I have moved heaven and earth to help him. I have left absolutely no stone unturned. There is not a moment that goes by that I am not researching how to help him, or making calls, or taking him to appointments.” She stepped closer to Carson, invading his personal space. “Please, you are our last hope.”

Carson recoiled and pointed at her. “You…your nose is bleeding and there is…it looks like blood coming from your eyes.”

The priest, or actor/priest, heard what Carson said and he turned toward her with a crucifix in his hand. The boy was watching intently, forgetting that he should react to the relic. His mother had a large enough reaction for them both. 

Words came from her mouth that she could not recognize. Then clearly, in English, she said, “I know how and when you will die, but you are better off not knowing.”

Carson looked to the camera man and said excitedly, “I think we have a real one…after all this time, we finally have a real possession.”

They pushed the boy aside and strapped his mom to the bed.  As the “holy water” was useless, they used prayers and other relics on her. The actor/priest had been able to obtain communion wafers, and those paper-thin discs provided photogenic evidence as they seared on her skin. 

Brent Carson was salivating at the thought of the ratings for this episode.

The boy knew he should try to help his mother but watching her struggle beneath the ties that lashed her to the bed was pleasing to him. Welts and bruises appeared on her flesh, and he knew how that felt. He also knew that his mother wanted the attention of Brent Carson. He had been ordered to not interrupt the two if they were interacting, and he had been trained to follow orders.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Slivers

Slivers, that’s all I ever saw – it peered through the crack of a door that didn’t seat in its jam, between window and sash where the slightest breeze blew, below floorboards that had shrunken leaving the barest opening. Slivers, as it watched and waited. For what, I dared not imagine in my waking hours, though I’d suspect it was for my guard to falter.

Closeting myself in a fully sealed room with no chinks each night, I allowed myself sleep when it would come; my dreams invaded by visions of that godless eye. It stared at me relentlessly, the light absorbed by its depth-less void; a lie of beauty hidden among the allure of its iridescent skin. But I knew far better than to be fooled by its camouflage. Looking into that eye, I could see what it promised – it promised pain, it promised torture, it promised an end that would not come swiftly or easily. Worse yet than the uncaring, unfeeling eye were the endless rows of teeth. They glistened, dripped with saliva. Translucent and viciously pointed; some jutted straight upward to pierce and stab, others curved backward toward its bulbous throat, insuring that once it had snagged its prey, there would be no escape. Teeth designed for ripping, tearing, rending chunks of flesh from bone to be swallowed whole. A gruesome death awaited any that it caught. I did not wish to die that way.

Perhaps worst of all were the moments sleep did not come in my tiny sanctuary. I’d crouch listening as it scratched at the walls, the floor, the ceiling above me. It knew where I hid; it was only a matter of time before it breached my woeful defenses. This we both knew, but still I longed to live just one more day…

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Amis

Plainly,
she dressed,
she spoke.
She seemed

forgettable:
lost name,
blurry face.
There was

nothing
to be done—
to be known.
They say they

would have,
had they seen,
had they heard.
Ignorance hadn’t

Stopped it
spreading further,
Infecting more.
Keeping casualties

from happening.
Bearing witness,
staying silent,
pleases beasts

sometimes.
Not for long,
always more—
she had enough

bad things
for a lifetime.
Stole theirs—
Annihilations

just happen.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Bauble

Alice looked at the exhibit in front of her. She tried activating it. She ran her hand over the smooth panels that were presented to her, but none seemed to work. She guessed that the power banks on them had expired, but could not reach the other panels as they were set too high. She was angry that this unit was obviously set for taller people. At just eight years old she was frustrated that the exhibits at the World Fair were always aimed at adults, especially as this one was held over the Christmas holidays.

She wandered off, leaving her mum to check out the other attractions; but those queues were so long, and Alice didn’t like waiting in line. This one was set way back, right on the edge of the perimeter, and no queue at all. It was such a tall tent, she just had to investigate.

“Hey, careful with that,” came a gruff voice from behind her.

She jumped sideways in a startled fright, not knowing he was there, and removed her grip from the latest panel that she had tried to get some sort of response from.

“I’m sorry mister,” she muttered. “But I think it’s broken already.”

“It’s not broken. It’s working just fine,” he snapped back.

“But what does it do?”

“Do? Do? It does everything, and at the same time, nothing. It’s a perpetual machine. It’s far more superior than the other exhibits here. It’s self powering. Ever heard of a self powering machine?” he asked.

“Alice, Alice?” a panicked voice came from somewhere outside.

Alice turned to leave; but not forgetting her manners, stopped and thanked the man for his time, adding, “It’s different, but kind of dumb.”

The man just smiled and gave her a wink.

She exited and ran towards her mother, smiling as she was lifted off her feet and given a huge hug.

“How many times have I told you not to leave my side?” her mum scolded her.

The old man gave them both a wave and, reluctantly, Alice’s mother smiled and waved back. He was not the sort of person that she wanted her daughter talking to. He looked strange. His clothes appeared tattered and he had an unnerving look about him.

Alice and her mother walked away over the metal platelets that covered the ground, each one lighting against the darkening night as they trod on them.

“Have you had your packed lunch?” her mother asked.

Alice took out a rehydration pill and then her favourite ‘rhubarb and custard’ one. To Alice, and anyone her age that had taken them, rhubarb and custard was just a taste and nothing more.

Bill decided to close down for the day. It didn’t seem worth staying open when no one apart from that one little girl had bothered to visit his ‘Last tree on earth’ exhibit. ‘Last tree?’ that was an understatement. He hadn’t seen another piece of organic flora in twenty years; not since his best friend, Gerry, had thrown his ailing rosebush into the incinerator.

He looked back solemnly. The elm’s leaves, although large, we’re starting to turn a greyish brown. He hadn’t managed to find any fresh soil for longer than he could remember. And as for liquid H2O, or water as it used to be called, that was getting scarcer by the day.

He ran his hands up against the bark and smiled to himself. “Well, my old friend, looks like you’re as about as outdated and unwanted as me.”

He poured an acid compound around the roots. After climbing its trunk and walking the length of its longest and highest branch, he smiled, and at the same time wept. He remembered the historic practice of hanging decorations from real trees this time of year. As he let himself drop with a noose around his neck, there was a quick snapping sound that reverberated around his head for a split second. Within that brief moment he couldn’t help but see the irony of his actions. For, although it wasn’t a fir or pine, he truly would be the last Christmas Bauble that hung from a real tree.

~ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright 2021 Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.