On a brisk December morning
Children dreamt of Holiday delights
A vile storm was brewing
To extinguish 27 lights
Little sisters with their new clothes
Little boys in wintry white
A storm thick was waiting
To extinguish 27 lights
The end of a new day
Who could see the darkest spite
A storm now was ready
To extinguish 27 lights
As the stars are just dawning
Look up high in the night
They are singing others playing
Missed, Precious 27 lights
27 stockings hung…
My empty heart
Joins you on the pyre
Feelings are completely rung
no hope of life’s gift
of your love I am bereft
If I flung
myself before finality did start
into memory’s fire
flames would purify and lift
casting this pain adrift
No presents slung
On Santa’s jolly cart
can satisfy under ache so dire
no happy hugs to sift
this cold pale Christmas
~ Leslie Moon
© Copyright 2012 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved.
“One must be possessed of the Devil to succeed in any of the arts.”
When darkness falls the Devil comes to Whitby.
As the sun fades, an old man sits writing in his study. He has lost track of time, though he knows from the light that it is evening and the day is almost spent. He has been sitting here for hours, his head bowed, spine arched from the back of the chair. The study is warm. The house quiet. The soft sound of pen against paper fills the room.
Outside the great bay windows, the seaside town of Whitby passes him by. Traffic backs up in the road; a line of brake-lights glaring like red eyes through his window. Sometimes, as now, the road is busy. Cars shudder and moan as they inch slowly forwards, exhaust fumes pouring into the cold. If he looks carefully, he can see figures in the drivers’ seats. Faceless shapes press against the car windows, their mouths long, eyes wide, limbs thin and hard from living. Life makes ghouls of most men, he thinks, and skeletons of the rest.
Dusk paints the vehicles orange and deep purple. The sea too catches the last colours of the day, the cold tips of its leaping waves silver and gold. It makes a magnificent sight in the evenings. From where he is sitting he cannot see those waves, but he knows that they are there, just over the hill, behind the Church of St. Mary. He walked there often enough with his old girl, before she passed. Pearl loved the sea. His knee still remembers the grainy dampness, from when he proposed to her on the beach almost fifty years ago. His eyes still remember the glimmer of the ring, so much like the shining tips of the waves.
“Sleep tight,” he says quietly. His breath is barely words. His fingers tighten around the pen, which flies faster down the page.
Outside, the shadows lengthen. The street begins to grow dark. The bay windows allow for light into his study, but there is little of it left. The old man stiffens in his seat, knowing without turning that soon the shadows will reach his chair and then they will not be shadows at all, but other things. It is the same every evening.
Each night the Devil wears a different shape.
The road is not always busy. Sometimes hours will pass without him seeing a single soul, except for the cats that stalk the streets. He has always been more of a dog person. Their last, Russell, was a haggard Highland Terrier. The dog had loved Pearl almost as much as he had. She had chosen Russell herself. He still hears the dog, sometimes, barking at the morning post, although he knows that is not possible.
He hears many things, though he does not hear the Devil when He comes.
The sun is a sliver over the rooftops, then it is gone. Darkness spreads through the room, followed by the cold that accompanies it, and for the briefest moment the old man pauses in his writing. Then the lamp on his desk flickers on. With a cavernous gurgle the radiator revives itself, a wave of warmth spilling into the study. Shadows flee across the walls from the lamplight, scuttling like vast beetles into the corners of the room.
He can feel the Devil standing over him. There is no reflection in the bay windows. He sees only himself at his desk, and the inside of the study reflecting in the blackness of the glass, and the weak, sporadic flashing of the Christmas lights in other gardens down the street.
Sea breath blows down his neck, accompanied by a voice.
His hand is a flurry of movement now. Words spill across the blank pages beneath him. The room begins to spin. He writes more than he has written all day. The words are not especially eloquent or sophisticated but they are honest and – he dares to think – beautiful.
The Devil is by his side now. He can see Him out of the corner of his eyes; a small, naked figure in the lamplight. Sensing He has been noticed, the Devil barks and begins lapping hurriedly at his jeans.
At first the old man flinches. He does not want to look to the figure by his chair but his eyes are drawn there nonetheless. Turning, he looks down. His face contorts, the pen slipping from his hand.
This is the shape the Devil has picked today.
She is not as he remembers her looking. Her hair is matted and wet. Eyes stare back at him from the bloated cushion of her face. Arms that had once been soft and dry are limp and pale, like two starved eels at her sides. She is how they found her, when they pulled her from the sea that cold December afternoon.
Grinning, Pearl licks faster at his legs; long, lapping motions revealing a fat, discoloured tongue. Two beetles tumble from the hollows of her mouth.
Snatching up his pen, he gives himself to the Devil.
Tears fill his eyes as he writes. This is not the hurried scribbling of before but careful, considered work. Sometimes the Devil comes as strangers, or friends he has not yet met. Once, Old Nick wore the skin of his mother, and it had been her, down to the flick of her hair, the age of her eyes, the humble pink of her cheeks. She had passed less than a week before and he could have hugged her and kissed her and spent the rest of forever lying next to her on the hard wooden floor of the study.
Every time the Devil visits, he feels. Sometimes he laughs. Mostly he cries. Always, the Devil drains him dry. Hell hath no fury like a man inspired.
Presently, he realises he is alone. He senses it is very late. The hush of the sea is quiet in his ears. Looking down, he stares at the pages below him, though he cannot bring himself to read them back just yet.
He wonders who is better off; the ghouls who live or the skeletons in their graves.
He rises slowly from the chair. His hands push back against the armrests. Bones crack as he straightens up, and again when he turns. Switching off the light he exits the study, pausing only to kiss a photo of his wife as he passes it.
“Merry Christmas,” he says, “Rest in Peace, Love, even if I can’t.”
Taking himself to bed he falls quickly asleep, and half-wakes only once that night, his eyes wet, to the whimpering of a dog, downstairs.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2012 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.
The striking of our grandfather clock woke me from a deep, bottomless sleep. The sky outside the lone window was still a dark gray, lightened ever-so-slightly by the threat of the dawn. I stretched my arms above my head and rolled my eyes, attempting to shake off my slumber.
My heart thudded in my chest.
I was alone, and on the opposite side of the parlor from my sister.
All of the candles were out.
How did I get here? The pile of books we had been reading lay a good seven feet from where I sat.
Jessamine was in the far corner, asleep and on her back.
I felt a tug at my ankle and stifled a yelp. I instinctively recoiled. In the dark, I couldn’t see what had gained purchase of the bottom half of my nightgown.
There followed the sounds of hurried clacking, as if a pair of rocks had skipped across the wood floor.
Despite my inability to see it, I knew it had to be in the room with us. It must have waited until Jessamine fell asleep, then separated us so it could do its dirty deed.
“Jessamine,” I hissed, wanting to wake her, yet terrified of alerting the ghoul, lest I become its latest morsel.
There was no answer.
Willing my legs to stand, I inched my way upwards, using the bookcase shelves to hoist myself up inch by inch.
I heard a tearing sound, followed by something far worse.
The smacking sounds of mastication, broken by eager, glutinous breaths, filled the parlor.
“Jesssamine!” I shouted.
Still no reply.
I needed light. It was impossible to face the ghoul in the dark. My spirit wavered between bravery and death by panic. I fumbled around the desk until I found the matches.
I struck one against the desk. It sputtered for a moment, then fizzled out.
The sounds in the corner stopped.
I could feel the ghoul’s penetrating gaze cut through the dark.
I grabbed another match, and with unsure hands, tried again.
The match stick broke in half, falling to the floor.
Clack, clack, clack, clack.
Those odd footsteps again.
Now a gurgling sound, a bubbling death rattle of a cry.
“Please, dear God, help,” I whimpered as I reached to pick out another match.
My cry was answered, as my thumbnail flicked across the match head, a brilliant flame roared to life.
And in that same instant, I wished I’d never brought light into the parlor.
My doll, my porcelain companion, stood on two small legs, leering at me. Its face had turned a mottled green, and bloody teeth sprouted from a mouth that was never designed to open. Weeping warts covered it from head to toe.
Worst of all, a strip of flesh, Jessamine’s flesh, hung loosely from its mouth.
I yelled in horror upon seeing my sister’s exposed throat. She lay, still as death, as her blood pumped onto the floor.
The demonic ghoul had truly left my poor, dear sister.
But it hadn’t gone to hell.
It had made a vile home within Lucy.
The ghoul clenched and unclenched its gnarled hands and slurped up the shredded flap of Jessamine’s throat.
I don’t know what overcame me then. I had been living for half a year under the specter of Satan and his damned minion. Fear, as much as Lucy, had been my constant companion.
There was no longer room for fear. This abomination had destroyed my family, and I knew at that moment that I would never again be the same. My heart turned cold while my temper flared like the center of a great bonfire.
Snarling like a mad person, I grabbed the candle and leapt for the ghoul. Cackling, it tried to sidestep from me, but I snared one of its slimy legs.
Warts burst open like blossoming flowers and a vile, hot fluid leaked onto my hand, burning my skin.
Still, I held on.
It shrieked. It hissed. It chomped its jaws and just missed snagging its teeth into the back of my hand.
With a flick of my wrist, I managed to get it to flop on its back.
Lucy’s blue eyes had been replaced by obsidian pools of hate. I moved my hand that held the candle onto its throat. Once I had a firm grip, I transferred the candle to my other hand.
“This time, go back to hell where you belong!” I shouted.
I brought the flames tips to its eye and heard a satisfying sizzle as the onyx orb melted. I moved the candle to its other eye and didn’t stop until both eyes were gone.
Suddenly, the ghoul’s protests and flailing stopped. Its tiny body twitched once, and was still.
Reluctantly, I let it go so I could rub the burned skin on my hand. The ghoul was dead.
Keeping a close eye on it, I walked on unsteady legs to my sister. Her face looked so peaceful, as if she had died in the midst of the most wonderful dream.
The tears came in a torrent, and I held her head in my lap, ever watchful for signs of the ghoul’s return.
I stayed there in the corner with Jessamine’s cooling body for two days.
When father returned, I was too weak to run into his arms.
His face was aghast.
“What…what…what?” he stammered.
“It was the demon in Jessamine. It became a ghoul. When it left Jessamine, it hid inside Lucy. You can see it, right there!” I screamed, pointing at its lifeless body.
But when Father picked it up, he held only my Lucy, her little head fractured but still the Lucy I’d always known. Her eyes were tiny points of ash, but Jessamine’s blood had somehow been cleansed from her porcelain face.
Despite my anguish and exhaustion and vexation, I began to laugh.
I laughed while my father pulled me away, and in his carriage, all the way into town. I laughed when he brought me to hospital, and even when they carried me to a room that smelled funny and was so bright, it felt like I had been thrown into the center of the sun.
And I still laugh now, ten years later.
They think I did it.
Esther passed on from infection.
Jessamine perished from her wound at the ghoul’s hand.
Mother never regained her sanity. In fact, she’s in a room not very far from my own. I pass her in the yard sometimes. She spits curses at me and blames me for the evil that befell our family.
Only I know it was the ghoul; the demon that slipped into our Old Manse and within my departed sister, the dearest person in my life. And when it tired of a human host, it found Lucy.
I tell everyone but no one will believe me.
Evil is real.
The ghoul was real.
And Lucy is still somewhere, outside these four walls. If you see a doll with burned eyes, run. Run and pray your soul hasn’t been tainted.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2012 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.
Bending down in front of this fawn who has wandered far astray into a place she knows nothing of, I tip her head back, cupping her chin in my delicate hand as I gaze into the enormous glistening pools that serve as her eyes.
“An odd turn of phrase, wouldn’t you agree? I give you my heart. How does one go about giving their heart away? If you were to give me your heart, you would become useless to me. A mass of tissue, cartilage, sinew, and bone pulsing with – nothing. And nothing is exactly what you would be worth. Do you wish to be worth no more than slop for the beasts to have their fill upon? Offering me your heart is a ridiculous thought. Besides, what makes you think I would allow you to give what I could so easily take if I chose it?”
A tinge of fear seeps into her eyes, her creamy throat swallows a hard lump, I release her but do not rise.
“Perhaps what you mean to say is that you offer me your unconditional devotion. Yes? Ah, now this I understand. This has a place in my world, this I can make fair use of. You proffer yourself before me and offer fidelity by choice. There is great value to be extracted from such a deed, unlike the sickeningly tender gesture of giving away your heart. A fool’s notion that. But you are a foolish creature, are you not?”
Her eyes shimmer, and I pace several steps away to allow the searing warmth of the sunlight to penetrate the chill I constantly feel radiating from within. This one, she affects me… After a moment of silent contemplation, I turn back to her. Our gazes locked once more, she still on her knees, me standing above her – as it would always rightfully be.
“Should I choose to make you my pet? Allow you to exist only on a whim? To please me when I see fit, perform for my enjoyment? Or perhaps even allow you the coveted honor of prostrating yourself at my feet for all to see; recognition of what an obedient thing you have become. Or should I simply accept your heart here and now, ending what will surely be an eternity of anguish for you?”
Circling her kneeling form, I allow my hand to trail through her mane of flaxen hair. It glistens so enticingly in the brightness of the day. The feel, that of swirling one’s hand through warm buttermilk; the scent, Anise. Delicious. Too delicious. Fisting a clump of this glorious silk in my hand, I yank her head backwards, redirecting her gaze to mine once more. A small squeal uttered, her hands fly up in a futile attempt to alleviate the pain I am causing her. My stare unwavering, she slowly lowers her arms to her lap once more.
“Do not expect to receive the abundance afforded my loyal servants, I have broken them! They have not groveled their way into my good graces. They have earned their allowance, their right to breathe for as long as I deem it useful. Unlike you my soft lovely dove, they have withstood a trial of pain and torment that you could not begin to fathom; and they have lived – if life is what you wish to call it. But you, you have earned nothing more than my attention with your soft curves and deep somber eyes. When I no longer find amusement in your attentions, then perhaps you will give me your heart as initially intended.”
Fear radiates from those bottomless orbs as they now watch me with trepidation, fear, and, of all things – judgment. Snarling, I release her head more roughly than intended and move to stand before her once more, bellowing at her audacity in a harsh ugly tone.
“This frightens you? My apologies! I don’t see why it should. You served the opening volley; you began this bid for my affection with your profferance of dedication to ‘my wants, my needs, and dare I say it – my most sacred desires’. Yes, I am mocking you and your attempt at securing my affection! Ah, I see you understand the spark of anger flashing behind my eyes, the couched venom spiting through my words, yet still you do not understand your own part in inciting me. This haughtiness of yours will need to be stripped bare if you are to be of any use at all. You are an ignorant animal, you know nothing of what I want, need or desire – yet you bear enough conceit to believe you stand any hope of satisfying me with your pathetic attempt at comprehension. Do you not see it? Do you still not understand who or what I am? No, I believe you do not!”
In a near frenzied pitch, I force myself to stop. She cowers before me, trembling, terrified by what now stands before her. Glancing down, I realize that my hands have begun to morph into clawed appendages; I can feel the second row of razor teeth beginning to protrude from my rending gums. The realization that this gentle creature before me is a far greater danger to my world than I initially thought decides her fate for me. Eyes brimming with tears, mine not hers, I crouch before this lovely timid thing, allowing my deformed talon to graze the soft flesh of her flushed cheek, and speak in a hushed tone.
“More’s the pity. I would have enjoyed the game, no matter how briefly it may have lasted.”
One more sweep through her luxurious hair, but my changing flesh is no longer capable of feeling its soothing texture. I gently cradle the back of her head and pull her soft form against mine. Blinding rage engulfs me, the cold from within takes over. With a slow deliberate stroke, I open her from pelvis to throat with the pointed tail I have kept hidden all this while; being sure to take enough time to truly feel the pain this is causing her. A single tear tips from my shuttered eye and with it, the last pretense of my humanity is shed. Leathery clawed wings tear free of their flesh covered prison and enshroud us.
After what lives in me is sated, and I have consumed my fill, I rise, releasing her corpse to the beautiful grassy field where I have defiled her. The warmth of the sun no longer as tantalizing as it was earlier. Glancing back at her remains one last time, I allow those that serve me to clean the foul mess I have made.
One dares to catch my eye as if to pass its own judgment upon me. Weakness amongst my kind is unheard of, and not tolerated.
With a feeling akin to what I understand to be shame, I spit at the thing before me, “Provided I do not choose to slit your throat for the disloyal thought I see passing through your eyes, I’ll allow you to keep your life and you will keep your tongue as to what you have seen here this day!”
He has the nerve to grin at me. She was but a frail morsel; the darkness beating in the soul of this servile beast shall sate me fully. I believe I shall begin by allowing him to give me his heart.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.