Archive | October 2013

Samhain Madness

A fierce wind blows across the Bethel Cemetery grounds. This is a cleansing, Wyoming style. Tomorrow is Samhain, and all must be ready. Nothing must stand in the way of what is to happen here at the appointed time.

Leaves scatter everywhere, swirling around, telling the world their story. The multicolored delights just recently fallen from the trees will soon turn brown and add to the dead look of winter. By morning, none of the leaves will be left in the cemetery. It has been mandated.

One gravesite stands apart from the rest, mounds of dirt placed to the side, allowing room for those who will come and grieve.  There is no need for a cleansing wind here. There is not a leaf to be found. The tombstone, its fresh marble surface shining in the moonlight, displays the name of tomorrow’s occupant.

Blaze McRob

Born: September 14, 1947
Died: October 30, 2013

“Feast at my burial. I’ll bring the beer.”

*    *    *

I toss my suitcase on the bed, tired from the long trip and the rotten travel conditions. Something weird is going on in the skies. The turbulence was freaky. Several times I thought the end was coming, the little prop job almost slammed to the surface before the pilot was able to pull the nose up at the last second.

Blaze asked me to meet him here at the Plains Hotel in downtown Cheyenne, he said there was something very important he had to tell me. But when he didn’t show up, I booked a room. This is an interesting place. The bell boy had rattled off tales of the people killed here, ghosts running around the joint, and other stories of the paranormal. His jabber-jawing earned him a good tip from me.

Heading back to the lobby, I stop at the front desk and ask if there’s a dining room at the hotel. I’m starved. Nothing like a roller-coaster plane ride to whet an appetite. Plus, I need a beer.

“Yes, Mr. Kullis, the dining room is down the hallway to your right. The food and beverage selection is quite excellent. Enjoy your dinner, sir,” the clerk smiled. “Oh, just a moment, I nearly forgot. I have a letter for you.”

Hi, Zack. It’s Blaze,’ I read. ‘I won’t be able to meet you at the Plains – I’m dead. Kind of sucks, but I’m being buried at the Cemetery tomorrow night at 8:00 P.M. and I’d like you to be there. Strange time, I realize, but you’ll understand why tomorrow. No need for fancy duds. It’ll be quite dark and no one will give a fuck what you’re wearing. See you tomorrow night, buddy.’

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Blaze is up to something. The man’s a real wise-ass. I just wonder when he’ll arrive on the scene and try to scare the living shit out of me.

I walk into the dining room. The waitress seats me at a table close to the window where I can see what’s happening outside. Perfect. I don’t like being hemmed in. Too many years in the FBI have taught me to always  have an escape route planned. In this case, it’s a window, but it’ll do.

She takes my order and asks if I would like a drink while I wait for my meal. “Thank you,” I say. “I’ll have a Budweiser, please.”

It hits the spot, and I drink slowly as I wait for my meal. The wind is howling outside, sending debris ripping down the street at a frightening pace. It tears a sign apart across the road. I’m glad I’m on this side. But then again, what if the wind shifts? I’m right next to the fucking window. So much for an escape route – a safe one anyway.

“Here’s your dinner, sir,” my waitress says, placing it before me. “I see you were watching our unique natural phenomenon. It keeps the air clean, if nothing else.”

“I would imagine it does. Is it always like this?”

“Yes, except in the summer when we could use a breeze.”

“Amazing. I guess you get used to it after a while.”

“Not really. The state has a pretty high suicide rate, I’m sure the wind has a lot to do with it. Would you care for another beer?”

“Yes, please,” I say, surprised that suicide and beer should both roll off her tongue so easily.

“I’ll be right back with another Budweiser. Enjoy your dinner.”

My steak is sitting in a pool of warm blood, shaking wildly as though daring me to try cutting into it. Bones adorn the outer perimeters of the platter the steak sits on. When I attempt to butter my potato, they begin attacking my hands. Damn that fucking Blaze! What’s that joker up to? I know he’s behind this.

“Is everything all right, sir?” my waitress asks when she returns.

“I believe my steak is a bit too rare,” I intone with a hint of sarcasm. “Would you have the chef cook it a little longer, please?”

“No problem, sir.”

She removes the plate, and I sip my second beer. When she returns, I find that everything is cooked to perfection. There is no blood on the plate, and no more snapping bones. “Is everything okay this time, sir?” she asks as she watches me take my first bite.

“Absolutely delicious, thank you.”

I finish my meal and order one last beer.

“Would you prefer to sit here with your beer or go to the lounge, sir,” my waitress asks.

“Actually, I’m waiting for a friend of mine to pop up on the scene. He sent me a letter saying he was dead and to meet him tomorrow night at the cemetery. But Blaze is quite the trickster.”

“Blaze McRob?”

“Yes, do you know him?”

“Indeed I do. He cuts quite a figure in this town. But he did die, sir. This morning, in fact.  He has been sick for a while, you know.”

“I heard he was, but I had no idea he was that sick.”

“Yes, I’m sorry to say. He had quite a following. The cemetery will be packed tomorrow night. I’ll be there for sure.”

Wow! Even in death, Blaze found a way to make the situation a merry one.

“Why is he being buried only one day after his death?”

“He arranged it this way. He didn’t want a mortician working on him. A simple pine box, closed lid, and a quick, natural burial were his wishes. But he arranged for a feast to be catered at the grave site. The man knew how to live, no doubting that, but he certainly knew how to die with style!”

My respect for Blaze growing, my curiosity as to who this man really was growing by leaps and bounds. I knew him, but apparently I didn’t really know him.

“Why will so many people be there? Don’t most already have plans for Halloween? Parties, tick-or-treating with the kids?”

She smiled, “Blaze was loved by everyone. He was a very generous man when it came to children and his friends, and helped everyone he knew as much as he could. Plus, his was always the best Halloween party in town. Something special will happen tomorrow, rest assured of that.”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out,” I say.

Linda, the waitress (I can tell by her name tag – hey, we FBI guys are sharp) is right about Blaze in many respects, but she’s not telling me the whole story. I can hear the hidden inflection in her speech, read her various body mannerisms, and I know there is more to it than she’s telling me, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll go tomorrow night and see for myself, pay my respects to my friend, and leave the following day. I owe it to Blaze. He’s helped me out a number of times in the past. It’s the least I can do.

“If you don’t mind, Linda,” I say, “I’ll just sit here and finish this beer before going back to my room.” She brings me my check, I pay and drop her a twenty as a tip. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“Thank you very much, that’s very generous of you. Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

After nursing the last few sips of my beer, I head back to my room, every step of the way feeling as if I am being  followed. I see nothing, but it doesn’t matter; I feel everything; I’m not alone. I’m on the cusp of a grand adventure.

Thanks, Blaze. You know how I thrive on the unknown. Tomorrow, buddy. Tomorrow.

*    *    *

I arrive at the grave site early, or so I thought. There are already easily a hundred people assembled. The catering is in full swing, tables of food set up for everyone, well in advance of the burial.  Blaze’s casket sits off to the side of the party, watching; almost seeming to survey everything that’s going on in the cemetery.

Kegs of Killian’s Red, Blaze’s favorite beer are set up in huge ice baths, and a bartender is busy pouring away.

Walking to the tombstone, I see the inscription and have to laugh. Linda was right: Blaze knows how to die with style.

I grab some food. There’s a little bit of everything here. Enough entrees and desserts to blow your socks off. Over a thousand miles from the closest ocean, and yet there are fresh lobsters, steamed clams, succulent oysters, as well as prime-cut locally raised steaks and burgers.

Spotting Linda, I walk to her and say, “Hello again. I’m glad to see you here. You mentioned there would be a big turn out, but I never expected this.”

She laughs. “This is only the beginning.”

With everything else going on tonight, I imagine her words resonate with truth. As much as I don’t wish to see my buddy being interred in the ground, I can hardly wait to see what happens next. It’s as if I’m in a movie, one scene after another playing before my eyes, waiting for my part to begin.

Eight P.M. arrives and two men maneuver the casket over the open grave and lower it into the ground. All eyes are on what’s happening. When the pine box hits the bottom of the hole, the men begin tossing dirt on top of it, shovel by shovelful. In a matter of fifteen minutes, all that meets the eyes is a mound of soil not quite as flattened out as it should be. There are no words spoken, no eulogy given. Strange, but I guess that’s the way Blaze wanted it.

Standing off to the side, watching the people gathered here, I feel a growing sense of expectation in the pit of my stomach; something is yet to come. Then it happens. The earth shakes, enough to almost toss me to the ground. I look around to see the others behaving as if they expected this to happen. The huge mausoleum next to Blaze’s modest burial-place splits in two from the force of the quaking, and the immense crowd, now numbering at least three hundred, stands to either side of the opening, forming as a human channel to direct traffic… but for what?

I hear scratching and clawing, and smell a hideous, musty stench coming from inside the mausoleum. Winged beasts emerge from the breach first, looking like gigantic bats, but upon further inspection, appear to resemble enormous Gargoyles with long, split tails. They rise high into the air, their wings sending the putrefaction farther out into the cemetery. And then, they fly away faster than anything I have ever seen before.

Wispy ghosts appear next, their non-substantive forms flying wildly about in the wake of the monstrosities before them. They must be lost souls released from their bondage. But where do they go now?

“Believe. Open your eyes and believe,” Linda says, as she moves next to me. “This is the closest that the Gates to Otherworld have ever been to our world. Look at the name on the mausoleum: Katz; an aberration of cats. This is the Cave of the Cats.”

As much as I try to refute her statements, I can’t. I am a witness to all measure of demons and oddities from Hell. Beings of indescribable shapes and sizes parade their deformities before me.

But wait! None of them make any effort to attack those forming the corridor directing them away from their tomb. Where will they go? What will they do?

The last of them trickle from view, and we return to Blaze’s grave site.

The dirt begins to shift. A hand rises from the center of the mound, and then another. They push away more of the fill covering the burial, and the unmistakable sight of Blaze, dirt clinging to his long beard, catches the light of the moon. The crowd cheers as he surfaces, shakes and dusts himself off, then grabs a beer from the outstretched hand of the bartender.

“Thank you all for coming out tonight,” his booming voice echoes through the cemetery. “We know what we’re up against now. These things will go after their kind first, those who possess evil to match their own. When they run out of the scum of the Earth to feast upon, that’s when the good folk will have to worry.

“And worry they will. The Dark Ages have returned, worse than ever.”

He raises his beer into the air, and the crowd joins him.

“For now, let’s party. All work and no play, and all that shit, you know.”

I walk to Blaze and hold out my hand. “You need a fucking bath, buddy. You reek.”

“Soon enough, my friend. You know, your days with the FBI are done. This is not the only Cave of the Cats. There is one in Washington, D.C. These beings from Otherworld will be busy there for quite some time.”

I laugh. “I suppose, but how do I know that you didn’t change into one of the bastards of the Underworld when you were dead?”

“You don’t. But I certainly found the perfect night to rise up from the dead, didn’t I? The doctors couldn’t come up with a plan to keep my old carcass alive, but I found a way to avoid putting myself under their care.”

“Kind of an extreme way around the health care system, isn’t it?”

“Enough talk, Zack. Let’s party. Dead or alive, I can’t die again.”

For a dead guy, Blaze makes a lot of sense. We drink ‘til almost dawn, none of the crowd leaving. My friend is right. I will stay here. This will be a long  battle.

*    *    *

Heavy rains saturate the area, flowing into the old mausoleum. A deep well is forming, but without fortifications to support it, it collapses in upon itself, sealing the opening forever.

The Gargoyles circle in the sky, the first vestige of destruction having occurred. Like the flying reptiles of millions of years ago, they rule supreme in the air. Nothing can touch them. They do not have to return to their confinement in Hell.

Pesky planes fly into Cheyenne airport. They picked the wrong time…

~ Blaze McRob

© Copyright 2013 Blaze McRob. All Rights Reserved.


Coffin Hop 2013

The lid cracks open; dust and a foul odor emanate from within. But there is something… something lurking at the bottom. Could it be the Damned prize? Sliding the lid further, dirt rains down upon your unsoiled shoes, you peer deeper into the dim recesses; Damned if you’ll leave here without the treasure, Damned still if you do! The gap opens wider, something from within scuttles across your hand. Is that the echo of menacing laughter you hear?

Comment below ‘tween October 24th and 31st, 2013, and you may be Damned to suffer what the Coffin yields!

…and don’t forget to follow the other Coffin Hoppers here!


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Damned Words 4

chemicals

Fillmore Street Park
Dan Dillard

He walked to the old bench at the Fillmore Street Park for his evening think. He’d done it for years. He was loving her that night. He’d done that for years as well. With a groan—his old bones protesting, he sat and smiled, wrinkling an old face. Children played while he slumped, his heart seizing. She came soon after, just to check on him. She had stayed behind to clean the dishes. Same thing every night of their marriage. The poisoned glass was something new. She tossed it in the trash and smiled, knowing it was no longer needed.


Name Your Poison
Blaze McRob

Two measuring beakers wait on the left. The poisons, skull and cross-bones displayed on the bottles, are sitting on the right.

The labels tell a story. Mix them all together and it spells one thing. Doom.

Two parts salt from Sodom, three parts of oil pollution greed, and four parts pain from those persecuted. I mix well and put in a flask.

Pulling my hood down over my face, and grabbing my scythe, I head for the door. The night is Dark; the futures of those I intend to visit is Darker yet.

It is Harvest season. Time to reap…


Marvelous Mel
Tyr Kieran

As the carnival migrated from town to town, so did Marvelous Mel. Riding on their road-dust coattails, he leeched off their attraction—the lights, thrills, and spectacles of Big Top Entertainment. He pedaled his medicinal wares of potions, powders, and poultices in a boisterous bally that fed on the crowd’s fears and doubts. The carnies of Porticelli’s Circus loathed the snake oil salesman and the tarnish his cons inflicted upon their fame. They could not strike a deal to part ways, so, with a simple switch of labels, they turned the barker’s next performance into one their patrons’ll never forget.


Brew
Nina D’Arcangela

The sizzle surrendering to silence, the flare diminishing to nothing more than a ghost upon his eyes, Darius wondered at the concoction brewing this Witch’s eve. An elixir he was charged with dispensing to all sons of Barecrest Village. The cloaked man before him would reveal nothing of its effects, only that he must see it consumed. The apprentice, far too dutiful to question, corked the final vial of odiferous liquor and set about his duty. Task complete, he returned both ashen and quivering to find his Master holding two goblets in hand. “Wizard or Warlock, which shall it be?”


Bane
Joseph A. Pinto

We savored our only connection—these sins corked without repentance before us. I remember when you stole stars from my sky, but you laughed: “you’re so over the moon!” The turpentine an easy liquid to digest then; it kept pretenses stripped clean.

One September, you whispered—”how much lovelier we would be if dead.” So I orchestrated a hymn for our funeral; you fashioned wind chimes for our grave.

Now we dance slowly, the carillons a gentle ringing in our ears. This was the way it should have been for us; that amber reflection in your eye never more beautiful.


Half-Measure
Thomas Brown

Drink deep, and with the mellow taste lingering in your mouth open your eyes and see the world for the first time. Regard the narrow alleys down which lovers satisfy themselves inside each other, the offices where machines sing country songs while men and women queue up to step on their whirring blades, the traffic blowing black fumes in the bright sky: our city where we live, love, scream of life and death even as we walk smiling into those mellifluous meat-grinders and know peace. All this revealed in a half-measure from an old bottle, shining darkly on the shelf.


Pain in the Ass
Hunter Shea

“Shit, did it bite you?” Marlene panted as she fastened the leather straps.

Alice looked down at her hand with frantic eyes.

“No,” she said sighing with relief.

The creature thrashed on the table – a writhing amalgam of fur and teal-tinged flesh, jagged teeth and drying blood, savage lust and certain death.

Alice saw the first drip of blood from her parents’ bodies fall from the basement ceiling.

“Pass me the glasses,” Marlene commanded.

“Which ones?”

“The amber ones, over there. Oh, and the funnel,too.”

Death by poisonous enema was better than it deserved, but it would have to do.


The Classic Signature
Leslie Moon

The bartender knew his craft well.

“This will be my classic Mojito, Miss.”

Her eyes twinkled, “You promised gold flecked ice.

“I understand there is an additional cost that I am more than willing to pay.”

“Yes, the gold flecks will match those in your eyes.

“Also for you an old recipe, my signature concoction infused with mint.”

****

“Specially made in celebration. Here’s to us darling.”

She raised her wine glass.

He smiled as he eyed the gold flecks, savoring the end of his drink.

She eyed him with concern.

Weakly he says, “Love, it seems a bit salty…”


Coffin Hop 2013

The lid cracks open; dust and a foul odor emanate from within. But there is something… something lurking at the bottom. Could it be the Damned prize? Sliding the lid further, dirt rains down upon your unsoiled shoes, you peer deeper into the dim recesses; Damned if you’ll leave here without the treasure, Damned still if you do! The gap opens wider, something from within scuttles across your hand. Is that the echo of menacing laughter you hear?

Comment below ‘tween October 24th and 31st, 2013, and you may be Damned to suffer what the Coffin yields!

…and don’t forget to follow the other Coffin Hoppers here!


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

Scissors

Gavin tripped as he left the bathroom and stumbled into his bedroom. He sat on his bed underneath two posters. One was for Empire Strikes Back, his favorite, and the other for the upcoming Return of the Jedi. The legs on his costume pants were a bit long, and they were in the way. Scissors would help. The mask, however, wasn’t helping. The eye-holes were just a bit too high in the one-size-fits-all clown suit his mother had picked out for him. He pushed it up on top of his head, held there by a thin elastic band stapled to the mask on either side.

Of course there weren’t that many choices at Woolworth’s. You had a plastic clown face, a plastic bum face, a monkey, a werewolf, vampire or mummy face…and then there had been the array of superheroes. All plastic, all crappy. His baggy suit was a clever sewing job by his mother. Patchwork colors and shiny silk, a floppy tie and some old shoes of his dad’s, painted orange.

“Can’t we just paint my face?” he’d asked.

“No, sweetie. That stuff is hard to wash off, and it makes your skin break out. The mask is just easier,” his mother said.

He had grumbled, staring at the floor, hating the plastic, store-bought stuff. Rich kids made fun of the poor kids at Halloween. They had rented costumes or luxurious fabrics, custom sewn at the tailor’s shop in town. His family wasn’t poor, but things were tight so they could stay in that neighborhood, living paycheck to paycheck. His parents did the best they could in those trying times, unable to afford extras like Cable or MTV. The Jones’s always had something new to keep up with. A concept Gavin would understand later.

“Besides,” his mother had said. “Think about the candy, and your friend Gregory’s party tonight. That’ll be fun, right?”

It would be fun, he thought. If they don’t make fun of me. If I can get to my friends before the others make fun. Before they point and howl and slap each other on the shoulders at my expense. If I can just live through the next hour or two of trick-or-treating, please God, let that happen.

He nodded, then pulled the mask back down. The eye holes still didn’t match. Scissors would help. He dug a pair out of the desk drawer on the opposite side of his room and immediately snipped two inches from the bottom of his red, yellow and green pants. Then he looked at the mirror over his dresser. His mother had done a fine job. A circus clown, not too menacing, still kind of creepy, like the one in that Poltergeist film. He wished he’d had a jester hat with jingly bells to complete the look, maybe hide some of that awful plastic mask…or some fluffy cotton candy hair.

A few steps in his dad’s old dress shoes, floppy enough, went much better with the bottoms of those pants cut off. It might upset his mother, but there was no time for alteration. The sun was fading and it was time to ring doorbells. He still couldn’t see quite right, so the mask came off once more and the scissors went to work, helping things. Two much larger eyeholes and he could see again. His eyes were sad and didn’t quite match the brilliant red, up-turned smile or the blue diamond-shaped streaks that went across his eyes.

Makeup would’ve been better.

One last look in the mirror and he grabbed his pillowcase—in which he would carry his loot—and carefully descended the stairs to the kitchen which smelled of caramel apples and popcorn.

“Mom! I’m leaving.”

She came in from the attached laundry and smiled.

“You look adorable!”

“I’m supposed to look like that clown from Poltergeist,” Gavin said.

“Oh. Well in that case, you look…terrifying?”

She hadn’t seen the film. Gavin sighed.

“Yes, terrifying,” he said.

She hugged him. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m so bad at this.”

But it’s so important to me.

“Have fun, honey. Don’t forget, Gregory’s house by 7:30! And behave.”

“I will, mom.”

It was just after 6:30, a late start, but trick-or-treating didn’t feel right until dusk. He only took ten paces to get to the front door. His shoes mad a clip-flap clip-flap sound as he walked, but changed to a ka-thunk ka-thunk when he crossed the threshold of the front door onto the concrete porch and walkway.

The first house was dark. His next-door neighbors were out of town, going to a funeral he’d heard. They had set out pumpkins, but the lights were off. That was a universal sign that said, ‘No candy here kids. Move along’. He walked by with a light ka-thunk ka-thunk and watched as other groups of kids moved on the opposite side of the street. Some groups were kids only, others had parents who watched from the street and others still were made of the tiniest of trick-or-treaters. Those approached the door with parent’s in tow and were met with “Oh, how precious!” and “Adorable!”

The second home had the lights on, so he knocked. He could hear the television through the door, see the light flickering in the sidelight window. Then he heard steps and when the door opened, it was Mr. Kaminski. The Kaminski’s were at least a hundred years old. Mr. K. looked at him.

“What the hell you s’posed to be?”

“Trick or treat! I’m a scary clown,” Gavin said.

Mr. K. considered and frowned.

“You a little old for this?”

“I’m only thirteen.”

Mr. K. raised an eyebrow and nodded, unimpressed. When he was thirteen, he was probably already married with grandkids. He grabbed a handful of candy from a bowl by the door and tossed it into Gavin’s pillowcase.

“Thanks!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mr. K said and shut the door.

Before Gavin arrived at the third house, a voice called from across the street.

“Look at the clown! Is that Gavin? You queer or something?”

Gavin felt tears pool in his eyes.

“Look at the queer clown,” the same voice said, followed by the laughter of cronies.

He knew the voices, but when he looked, the faces were different…painted like the rock band Kiss. It was Gregory’s older brother Mike and his thug friends. Gavin snapped his head forward, forcing himself not to look back and he tripped over his orange shoes, scraping through the silky fabric of his costume and the top layer of skin on one knee. The tears spilled over and he was temporarily glad for the mask.

A huge burst of laughter came from across the street. Kiss was cackling and slapping one another on the backs.

“Clowns really are funny. Damn, Gav. Thanks buddy. I needed that shit,” one said.

More chuckles followed as Gavin stood up. His palms were scraped and his knee was on fire. He skipped the next two houses and turned the corner so he could put their jokes behind him. His breath came in jittery puffs as he cried and his cheeks were sticky with dried tears. Once around the corner, he tried another house, one he’d passed a dozen times a week but didn’t know who lived there. He checked his watch before knocking on the door. It was almost 7:00. He could get twenty more houses before he got to Gregory’s. Then he could take off the stupid mask. Then he could hang out with his friends and relax.

Maybe I am too old for this.

A young woman answered the door, maybe a college student. The music inside the house was so loud he was surprised she could hear the doorbell. She laughed at the sight of him and covered her mouth.

“A clown?” she shouted before he could say trick or treat.

“A scary clown,” he said weakly.

She tossed something into his bag and shook her head.

“Hardly,” she said.

The tears pooled again, but he didn’t care. He moved from house to house filling his bag and the taunts kept coming. Gavin shrugged them off. The heavier his bag became, the less the insults hurt. His mother made that costume and it was good enough for him. If only he’d painted on the face. It would’ve washed off. She should’ve let him—no—he should’ve just done it anyway. Suddenly, Gavin was angry with his mother. Angry with Gregory’s brother Mike. Angry with the college girl. Angry with Mr. Kaminski. Angry with the band Kiss… Then he was at Gregory’s door. It was 7:25.

He pushed the mask up on top of his head and wiped his eyes, now sore from crying. The doorbell brought thudding footsteps as someone approached. When it opened, Gregory stood there in a Superman costume, not a plastic one, but one stretchy fabric, exactly like the movie. He even had red boots like Christopher Reeve. Gregory’s hair was slicked back with just one curl on his forehead. Except for the muscles, which Gregory was sorely lacking, it was perfect.

Angry with Gregory.

“Come on in, man. Cool clown suit,” he said, but with a snicker.

In the background, Gavin saw Kiss. Mike and his three stooges sat at the kitchen table gobbling up the snacks that were supposed to be for Gregory’s party.

“Hey, it’s the queer clown. How’s your knee?”

The four of them roared again, and even Gregory laughed. As they turned past the kitchen into the living room where the other kids were, he saw they were laughing as well. Laughing at him. Laughing at Gavin. Laughing at his homemade costume and Woolworth’s mask. He dropped his bag of candy on the floor by the front door and reached into his pocket. The scissors were there, slick and cold and pointy. Scissors would help.

~ Dan Dillard

© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.

Lullaby

It became my ghost, that lullaby—its virulent strain infecting not only the cloaked woods that surrounded us, but also the ears upon which it fell.  It haunted us all, wormed its way into our brains and cored our frightened eyes to hollowed orbs.  Unlike the other girls, who mewled in dread as those tinny chords crackled out from the absolute darkness, I sought to discover its origin.

I was as terrified as the rest; perhaps more so, for I managed to keep my mind threaded to reality while preventing the lullaby from wholly poisoning my thoughts.  I needed to if any of us were to survive.

The other girls shoved into a uniform mass of shuddering limbs against the bars of our cage whenever the lullaby serenaded us, yet I remained apart, prone and flattened atop the floor, face pressed against the cold, slickened bars, focusing on its source.  At first, tracking it eluded me, my emaciated stomach becoming its own troublesome din.  Eventually I learned to ignore my hunger growls, as well the sobs from our band of captives.  Soon, I gained a morsel of information; useful as it was.  Somewhere—from an old phonograph, perhaps—the lullaby popped and hissed its chords away into the night.  This had to mean the old woman lived in a dwelling close by.

As for the creature, that remained another mystery altogether.

By my measure, captivity had defined me for nearly five months.  Abducted in spring as I took my morning stroll through the park—a chemical soaked rag ripped me from my normal life.  I had since stopped wondering if my husband and children believed I was still alive.  Even if by some miracle I managed to escape, I knew I would return home a husk of the woman they once knew.  During this past week, a chill threaded our nights of imprisonment under the stars; autumn made herself known, and my gut instinct whispered that I would not come to feel winter’s grasp.

Within the cage, I remained the only grown woman; the others ranged in ages from seven to sixteen, their body development my only means of guessing.  Fear had worn our faces down to indistinguishable masks.  I used to glow whenever my husband told me that I looked much younger than my years.  I always smiled when mistaken for my oldest daughter’s sister.  Such cruel irony that my youthful appearance served to bring this misfortune upon me.

Tonight, a breeze rose again from the sentient woods and while our sunburnt, naked bodies trembled under its touch, a scent of something fetid clogged my throat.  Though dirt and feces caked us, this horrible stench was not that.  It had soured my stomach on many occasions before; ultimately, the precession to the lullaby. And so I steeled myself.

I stretched flat atop the cage floor, and peered between the bars out into the nothingness and waited.

“What are you doing?”  A whisper from behind.

Katie—perhaps only sixteen.  She reminded me so much of my oldest daughter that my soul ached.  “Listening.”

“For what?”

The woods then crackled, releasing a static charge into the air.  Behind me, the girls scuttled like manic bugs.

Baby mine, don’t you cry

Unreasonable terror descended upon us all.  The girls’ high-pitched shrieks pierced the night, but my gaze remained unwavering through the bars.

Baby mine, dry your eyes

Katie threw herself down beside me; she was shivering like a leaf.  I gripped her hand.  “Let me concentrate,” I said.  She nodded, teeth chattering inside her skull.

Rest your head close to my heart

The girls screamed as one.

Never to part, baby of mine

Soon thereafter, the footfall of the creature pounded through my chest.  Katie must have felt it too, for her breath drew ragged in my ear.  “What do we do?”

“Pray that neither of us is taken.”

Little one when you play

Indifferent to the hysteria within our cage, the lullaby wafted in its heavenly timbre.  It betrayed us every time.

Don’t you mind what they say

A lantern’s glow floated to us from the darkness, its purpose one we knew all too well.

Let those eyes sparkle and shine

The creature’s footfalls resonated stronger through the floor.  Desperation suddenly gripped me—the lullaby, the constant and promised threat of death.  I turned toward the girls, the churning mass of desperate bodies, those agonized faces cast under pale moonlight, and sobbed against the bars.  But Katie squeezed hard upon my hand and snapped me back into focus.

Never a tear, baby of mine

An apricot radiance fell upon us.  The girls’ shadows swayed all about, and I did my best to hide within their shallow pools; I hoped it would be enough to detract attention from Katie and myself.  The old woman emerged from the thicket, face shimmering at the door of the cage.  Much like us, she wore no clothing; her skin affected, however, not by the elements, but by age.  A ragged sack hung from her hip.  Her puckered mouth moved to the tune of the lullaby.

If they knew sweet little you,
They’d end up loving you too

She placed the lantern at her feet.  The keys to our prison jangled within her fingers.  “Who’s my lucky one tonight?”

The hysteria resumed.  The old woman stared through the bars, oblivious of it all.  Oblivious of us.  Now unlocked, the cage door squeaked open and she shuffled in, the lantern behind her silhouetting her hunched form.  From her sack, she withdrew a tattered, old nightgown as well as a six-inch bladed knife.  I pressed myself down hard onto the floor of the cage.  Beneath us, the ground tremored, and I could hear the snap of tree boughs as something advanced.

“You,” the old lady spat, her gnarled finger jabbing toward a girl whose knees were drawn to her chest as she rocked back and forth upon the floor.  “Put it on.”

She was no more than seven.  I am confident those crippled eyes of hers once carried the warmth of the sun, but not anymore.  The little one wet herself in distress.  With a deftness that always astounded me, the old woman lunged and seized her by the wrist.  In wide arcs, she swung the knife with her free hand, keeping any would-be rescuers at bay.  In one motion, the old woman draped the nightgown over the girl’s soiled head and then dragged her from the cage.  Aside from the desperate gouges her fingers dug through the loose dirt upon the floor, the girl offered no resistance.

They never did.

All of those people who scold you
what they’d give just for the right to hold you

The creature’s roar shattered the night.  Girls bayed; cries for their momma went unanswered.  Worse still, the cackle from the old woman’s lips, and the glint of lantern light captured within her beady glare.  She slammed and locked the cage door behind her once more.  Off she lurched, the point of her blade at the young girl’s back, the lantern’s glow bobbing along.  Together, they disappeared into the woods.  They left us alone with the chill gnawing our bare shoulders, the metallic resonance of the lullaby failing to soothe our ears.  From somewhere out in the coagulated canopy of darkness came a deep-bellied roar.

Then awful, earsplitting silence.

***

The following morning, Katie pulled me to the far side of the cage.  Sometime during the night, after we had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion, the old woman had returned and thrown ladles of porridge through the bars.  At least, I assumed it had been the old woman.  The girls ate, scooping breakfast from the churned dirt with their hands.  “You said you were listening.  For what?  Maybe we could have saved Monica and the others before her.  Maybe we could still save ourselves.  We can’t let the old woman take us away like she does.”

“Please, keep your voice down.”  I surveyed the cage.  While some of the girls shoveled dirt and porridge into their mouths, most sat with empty gazes.  “Something is out in those woods, we know that.  The old woman must summon it with that lullaby.  And whatever is out there obviously hasn’t harmed her.”

“There must be more people helping her.”

“One would tend to believe, but there is no certainty.  All the times I’ve listened, I’ve yet to hear anyone else.”

“The girls who’ve been taken.  Do you think they might still be…?”

“No,” I said, far more curtly than I wished.  “It’s time to stop dwelling on the maybe’s and the why’s.  We need to focus on finally getting out.  And I may have an answer.”

A glimmer of hope flashed within Katie’s eyes.  She must have been a beautiful girl once; I wondered if she ever had the opportunity to kiss a boy.  “The old woman’s peripheral vision is nonexistent,” I continued.  “She’s never noticed me lying on the floor.  It unfortunately took me some time to realize.  But as the oldest one here, I’ve still some wits left about me.”

“Oldest?  You’re no older than I am.”

For the first time since my abduction, I smiled.  “Katie, I’m old enough to be your mother.  It’s what got me into this.  It’s what might get us out.”

***

Six days had passed since my conversation with Katie.  On the third day, the skies opened and so we drank from putrid shallows of mud.  My strength had ebbed considerably.  I paced the corners of the cage, keeping my limbs as agile as possible.  No one spoke; we huddled in cold discomfort.  Six days…and on the sixth night, the lullaby crooned anew.

From your head down to your toes,
you’re not much, goodness knows

A cacophony of turmoil gripped the cage.  The girls were beyond reason.  I grabbed Katie by the shoulders, and pulled her face to mine.  “It’s time,” I said.  With that, my desperate plan was set into motion.

I crawled along the floor, Katie beside me, and then pressed my face against the bars.  Like a clone of my panicked heartbeat, the creature’s heavy footfall assaulted the ground.

But you’re so precious to me,
sweet as can be,
baby of mine

The lantern approached, the knotted woods sputtering in its glow.  Beneath the melodic beckoning of the lullaby, I thought I heard the creature snort.  “It’ll be alright,” I soothed Katie, wondering if I lied only to appease myself.

A rattle of keys—the crinkled face appeared at the door of the cage, once more wearing a crooked smile.  “Who’s my lucky one tonight?”

Katie waited until the old woman entered, and then rose from her position beside me.  Cautiously, she entered the fringes of our jailer’s vision exactly as I had instructed.

The old woman’s misshaped head snapped toward her.  She scrutinized Katie for a moment, and then drew the nightgown and knife from her sack.  Katie glanced at me nervously as I held my breath, praying she would not reveal my position.  The old woman tossed the nightgown at Katie’s blackened feet, and I exhaled.  “You.  Put it on.”

Side to side the blade swung as Katie placed the nightgown over her head.  I sprang from the ground then, pushing my withered body to its limit; the sheer action of launching from my bare feet ignited agony in my joints.  Whether or not the old woman saw me attack from the side, her blade still managed to slice my brow; now my own vision was compromised by blood.

I tackled her, clumsily wrapping my thin arms around her leathery body.  Far stronger than I deemed natural, the old woman stood her ground, and I screamed my throat raw as her knife pierced my shoulder.

I collapsed—the whinnies of the girls surrounded me, and a growl sounded from the creature in the woods.  Above it all, my ghost, that lullaby, sang to me.

If they knew sweet little you,
they’d end up loving you too

I staggered to my feet.  The old woman suddenly yelped—Katie had done as told.  Through the scarlet mask covering my eyes, I glimpsed Katie yanking the nightgown over the old woman’s head, which caused her to drop her knife and keys in surprise.  I scooped both from the floor, spun her around and jabbed the tip of the blade into her back.  “Walk,” I demanded and shoved her from the cage.  By the lantern’s glow, I quickly shut the cage door, locking the girls in behind me.  I tossed the keys between the bars.  “Keep yourselves locked inside until daybreak,” I ordered Katie.  “If I don’t return by then, free yourselves.”

I grabbed the lantern, then pushed the old woman forward.  She howled, understanding her predicament—if she removed the nightgown from her body, I would kill her in cold blood.  Like an obedient calf, I prodded her along; she babbled uncontrollably, but the lullaby and the snorts of the creature smothered her pitiful sounds from my ears.

We trudged deeper into the woods.  The brush tore at my feet but still I pressed on; to where, I did not know.  The lullaby seduced me as the lantern flame flickered and gradually went cold.  The dark suffocated my senses; only then did I question whether my surmises held merit.

Then it emerged, a blackjack oak snapping at its feet, something so huge it threw the very pitch of night aside.  Its foul stench rolled from its mass as it stooped over us both.   “There, there,” the old woman whispered.

The creature sniffed my body.  I gagged upon its putrid breath.  Its moist snout moved slowly along my neck as a sharp talon grazed the top of my shoulder.  Feeling.  Touching.  Pinpricks of white twinkled in one eye—the starlight reflected back from within its inky, remorseless orb.  It peered upward, measuring my response.  Urine trickled along my legs and I dropped the knife to the ground.

All those same people who scold you,
what they’d give just for the right to hold you

“That’s right,” the old woman cooed.

The shadowy outline of a thick, knobby arm touched my bare skin.  It hesitated, and then reached for the old woman, tugging at the nightgown.  “There, there, baby,” her voice suddenly becoming strained.

A horrendous growl burst from the creature’s jaws, then it knocked me aside.  In an instant, all faded—the old woman’s cries for mercy, the thump of the creature’s footfalls as it dragged her deep into the woods.  I lay there shivering atop the moss and lichen.  Eventually I rose, praying I could find my way back to the girls, the chords of my ghost, that lullaby, keeping company at my side.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

Reaping the Harvest

There was beauty here they’d say
the remains are black charred crows
because of that horrific day
nothing green dares to grow

*

corn stood tall and harvest ready
livestock munched on fresh-cut hay
our crops productive and steady
“each year better” the old folks’d say

*

 the earth moved alarming, concussed
no explanation for the disturbing din
rational farmers we never fussed
mouths and eyes wide agape, open

*

the air split with blood curdled screams
each second clicked death’s hand
no where to go, no place to flee
darkness moved over fertile land

*

pitch forks were all that we had
as blood flowed beneath our feet
we intended to make one last stand
“what Hell’s bane need we defeat?”

*

The threat rolled steadily forth
we bustled women, children and granny
futily we barred the door
hid love in nooks and crannies

*

Then something sucked out the air
we left with nothing to breathe
look at our foe we didn’t dare
our souls in mortified unbelief

*

coming, coming was all we knew
inexpressible feelings it caused
on knees “let this terror be through”
“Keep steady lad” I heard pa

*

Courage I gathered at the last
I stared down its fire filled eyes
bravely my legs would not let it pass
from its foul mouth flew about flies

*

It stripped me of my straw hat
mumbled words spoke in my head
“I’ll stop now I’m feeling quite fat
you’ll find hundreds are missing, more dead”

*

“Someone to clean up my mess
you boy are the one for the job
Go, you have passed today’s test”
bloody stench rose, his head bobbed

*

“I should be too,” I thought as I scoured
my world flipped inside, upside down
all that breathed had been devoured
friends colored prints in the ground

*

the green place that I’d known
had been watered red and died
nothing was left to atone
the sun on that day must have cried

*

There was beauty there they’d say
all I see are black charred rows
it was our harvest’s price dearly paid
nothing green dares to grow

~ Leslie Moon

© Copyright 2013 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved.

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