The plume of his breath in the January air lied to him, but he knew the truth.
His heart pushed the searing heat through his body. He was burning from the inside. “Release the heat,” his fever screamed.
He could see the fiery blue of the offending veins. They were the traitorous vehicles for the blood which burned him.
Steel, blessedly cold, cut easily. He peeled away the skin on his arm with a pleasurable frenzy.
Vein-like branches quickly gave up their sanguine heat. Blue soon gave way to grey.
Frozen veins, branching across his opened flesh, burned him nevermore.
It hunted me.
And for the better part of the chase, I was enthralled. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, keeping them hot. My muscles seared as I darted this way and that, ducking, leaping and rolling into the next place where I would wait. Wait for a breath, the crack of twigs underfoot, the flutter of a flock of birds frightened by my suitor, or a scent detected from upwind. They gave it away.
For a time it was quiet and no direction looked safe. I hesitated.
I felt its moist, warm breath on my neck and my veins froze.
Icy tendrils; you’d think they’d chill me, but no – they warm my very soul. The children of my children’s children, the progeny that will carry forth my breath cocooned in an impenetrable translucent sleeve. When this world thaws, my branches will spring free. They will bloom, spreading their lethal spore among others of my kind, killing their offspring, weakening each host. As they fail to mend, the frost will come again, and I will wait for the next thaw. When that day comes, I will stand alone, proud, the only of my kind – as it was always meant to be.
What the Frost Brings
I am the cold—not the winter’s chill, but the dark, seeping cold that settles within the bones of the living. As they shiver and doubt and fear, I grow stronger, burning their patience away to ash. When hardship gets harder, the flames go out and their food stores diminish, I take over, filling the void where hope once bloomed. I force their despair into violence until nothing stirs but my sweet mistress: Death. Oh, how divine her touch! I’ve laid waste to entire civilizations just to feel her embrace. So, heed the frost’s warning—Death is not far behind.
I travelled the world in search of you. They said that you were gone but I knew there were still places where we might talk; where for a few minutes at midnight I might look into your eyes, and smile.
Austria, Germany, the vast trackless forests of Norway. Five times I found you, hiding in the dark, bound to the old locales dotted around the world: cosmic pockets where the dead still dance.
It was a dream come true to watch you waltz under the stars. Then dawn broke, the dream ended and I died inside to be so alone.
Joseph A. Pinto
I have no magic left to revive you; you have gone cold at my feet. A time existed when I held you aloft, serenaded by the sun. We both know that day is no more. So into your wonderland, I follow one last time; your brittle boughs snap between my callous fingers. I find your pain an absent, infinite thing. Can you hear the ice crack; yes, I can hear your heart crack. Come spring, when the ground softens, I’ll dig you free again. For now, whisper to me your lost, blue-lipped solace. You have gone cold at my feet.
Deck The Lawn
They’re going to put the fucking lights and other shit on me again. I won’t allow it to happen. This ice is even too much weight for my branches to support.
It is dark when they come. Good for me, not for them. Before they have a chance to assault me, my icy branches take them down and apply a frosty guillotine to their necks. Their red blood gives the lawn a festive look, and the shock, still in their eyes, is better than any dangling orbs hanging on a tree.
Old fat Santa couldn’t have done a better job.
“Hard hearts in the making”
soft wintry voices say
innocence is for the taking
fiendish finger play
small bodies fearful, shiver
carrion blocks the light
black wings swoop and quiver
will spend life this night
“quickly now and hide your young ones”
dark howls fill night’s space
crystal snow a place to burrow
by dawn there’s little trace
scheming branches interlocking
cries both far and wide
the rumors say “death is walking”
beckoning from the other side
“Hard hearts foul in the making”
ice cold voices say
innocence is for the taking
while fiendish fingers play
Veins, veins. Ice in my veins.
Snowflakes flitting on my window, tapping, melting. So cold.
Ice in my veins.
My hands are numb. How fast will it travel, this ice flow, broken free from some frozen cellular hinterland?
Frozen fingers, numb nose, pressed against the glass. Waiting for my heart to glaciate. Warm heart, cold hands. Dead hands, deader heart.
“Stop looking out there. That is not you,” I mumble. The man next to me snorts, claws at his hair.
“That is outside. I am inside.”
Spider veins, glistening, luminescent. Blue veins, silver. Cadaverous flesh.
“Make me warm!”
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.
Tiny footsteps and giggles filled the hallways of the small suburban house. Dad was snoring somewhere in a back bedroom.
“Shh,” one voice said. The other snickered and more footsteps were heard as the pair moved into the kitchen and through the wooden door that led to the basement.
“Where are they?” Emily asked.
Her blond pigtails hung in long, thick ringlets against the bright pink footie-pajamas.
“I don’t know. Look over there, dork,” said David. “I think they’re in daddy’s toolbox.”
She stuck out her tongue and carefully opened the lid to the Craftsman case. She saw screwdrivers and wrenches and various other things inside the tool chest. Then, her eyes grew round and her lips parted, spreading into a wide grin.
“Found ‘em,” she said to her brother, holding up her prize.
“Good. Now help me find the big one.”
She pulled out her list and checked it twice.
“The big one?” she asked as if to say, are you sure?
David, eight years old, pushed a lock of chestnut brown hair out of his eyes and grabbed a coil of rope from a hook on the pegboard wall while Ironman looked on from the front of his t-shirt. The coil of rope slipped over his shoulder as the pair hunted the big one.
She spotted it first.
“There it is, David.”
David looked where she pointed and leaning against the wall next to the water heater, was a bundle of long handled tools. He grabbed the ten pound sledge hammer and hiked it up onto his shoulder before starting back up the stairs. Emily was looking at a pair of large garden shears, almost as tall as she was.
“Emmy, come on. We don’t need those.”
“You sure? They look sharp and pointy.”
“I’m sure. Everything’s set up already.”
She shrugged, tucked the nails she’d grabbed from the toolbox under her arm and bounded up the steps behind her brother.
“Daddy’s going to be so surprised!” she said in an excited whisper.
“Shh,” David said.
They snuck into the living room and placed the items in the middle of the floor with some earlier gatherings. David grabbed a chair from the dining room and carried it into the living room. He placed it under the exposed beam that ran the length of the ceiling. Emily turned on the Christmas tree lights and hummed Jingle Bells.
David removed a cluster of mistletoe from the beam revealing a metal bracket and with some struggle, connected the handle of the sledge to it with a single bolt. Giving it a nudge, he was happy to see the hammer swing freely side to side. He slid the chair a couple feet to his left and climbed back up, pulling the sledge by its head and connecting it to a loop of twine that was already prepared. The other end of the slipknot dangled over the back of their father’s recliner.
“Like this?” Emily asked.
David turned and looked. Emily had propped up a two-foot-square piece of plywood that was full of holes he had drilled that afternoon and she was busy pushing nails through them. He nodded.
“Just like that.”
When she was finished, it made a triangular pattern much like a Christmas tree. She put duct tape on the back, holding the spikes in place until she could lay it on the plastic sheeting they had placed the floor. There were a few more holes in the board that David had drilled so he could screw it into the subflooring through the thin carpeting. He picked up a battery powered screwdriver.
“Go check on Dad,” he said.
She padded down the hallway and peeked into her father’s room. He snored peacefully and she pulled the door shut behind her with a minimal snick of the latch. Back in the living room, she gave her brother a quick smile and a thumbs up.
“Still asleep. Visions of sugar plums,” she said.
He quickly screwed down the bed of nails and put the screw-gun away. Emily helped him stretch out the coil of rope and David secured one end of it to the fireplace with a double knot. Once that was finished, they stood back and looked at their work. Emily jumped up.
“Almost forgot,” she said and rushed into the kitchen.
She returned with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk they had staged in the refrigerator and placed them on the end table next to the recliner.
“I think that does it,” Emily said.
David nodded in agreement.
“Now what?” she asked.
“Now we get in position and don’t move until it’s time.”
They fist bumped and then she ducked behind her dad’s recliner and grabbed the length of twine that hung down from the ceiling. David gripped the end of the rope and sat in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. The Christmas tree lights gave off an eerie glow and not a creature stirred otherwise. Their father’s snoring broke the silence every few seconds.
Those seconds turned into minutes and the children exercised expert patience, but when the clock on the fireplace mantle struck midnight, their wait was rewarded. In a twinkling, they heard on the roof, the prancing and pawing of many a hoof. Emily smiled as she peeked around the chair. David gave her a nod and ducked back behind the wall, holding his rope in both hands.
There were more scuffling sounds, then a snore from daddy’s bedroom, then more scuffling, and then with a bound, St. Nicholas came down the chimney. The jolly old elf stepped, leaning over, out from the fireplace and dusted the soot from his furry red suit, then he cranked his pipe from one corner of his mouth to the other. He glanced at the tree, then at the cookies and when he laughed, his little round belly shook like a bowl full of jelly. Over his shoulder was a sack, and as he stepped further into the room, he swung it around and set it on the floor. David peeked around the corner. It was time.
“Now!” he shouted.
Before Saint Nick could place a finger aside of his nose, Emily jerked the twine with all of her might. The slipknot came undone and the sledge fell from its perch, smashing Santa in the side of the head. David pulled his rope tight and as Santa pirouetted in place, dizzy from the blow, he tripped over the rope and fell face-first onto the bed of nails, embedding his rosy cheeks, cherry nose and droll little mouth onto each three-inch spike.
“We got the bastard,” Emily said as she stood up.
“We sure did,” David agreed.
As the Claus twitched and shuddered, his magic blood seeping out onto the plastic in front of their tree, David and Emily retrieved his bag. It felt empty as they held it up, but when Emily reached inside, wishing, something appeared. A pink tablet computer with her name etched on the back. David pulled out one of his favorite video games, then another. Then they pulled out a wad of cash as thick as the Manhattan Yellow Pages.
“Merry freakin’ Christmas,” Emily said.
Her brother gave her a hug. “Daddy’s going to be so excited.”
“What do we do with that?”
They pair looked at Santa’s corpse and David laughed in spite of himself.
“I have an idea.”
They wrapped the plastic sheeting around Claus’s body and David lifted the old man’s shoulders while Emily pulled the bag over his head. They struggled to get it around the rest of his body, but the bag stretched as necessary and once inside, he disappeared. David unscrewed the board and tossed it and the screws into the magic sack and lucky for them, none of the blood had gotten onto the carpet. He then climbed back onto the chair and replaced the sledge hammer with the mistletoe. Once it was all cleaned up, they sat down and split the milk and cookies.
“What you want to wish for next?” Emily said.
A massive thud on the roof startled them. Emily’s tiny hands went to her heart. Another thud followed, then another, and one by one, the reindeer slid off the snow covered roof into the back yard.
Down Dasher, then Dancer, then Prancer and Vixen, followed by Comet, then Cupid, then Donder and finally, Blitzen.
“I almost forgot about the poison carrots,” she said. “How are we gonna hide all that?”
“We’ll think of something,” he said. “We always do.”
~ Dan Dillard
© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.
Within Mr. Vanitas’ snifter, fine Scotch swirled; it clung in languorous beads along the rim. At length, he admired its legs. Then he spoke. “And so friends, yet another month we commence together. The floor is now open.”
Nine in total shared the silence of the café. But Mr. Vanitas, he did not quite call them friends. Aficionados, perhaps. Chairs creaked anxiously. Larkish shadows, spit from the occasional candle, canvassed the walls.
“May I?” Eyes wide and far too dazzling, a middle-aged woman inquired of the room.
“Of course, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas smiled between sips of Scotch; an oaken subtleness teased the plastic smoothness of his lips. He knew the café owner forbade drinking on its premises, but fistfuls of hundreds turned the cheek of many a steely individual. Besides, no one possessed the nerve to rebuff him. Of that, Mr. Vanitas always remained quite confident.
“Thank you.” Her smile infected the gathering, eyes so very, very bright, but gourmet finger sandwiches soon passed through the room; her giddiness discarded for poached shrimp and alfalfa sprout delectability. “I died last week.”
A smattering of polite applause. “Excellent, Rita.” Mr. Vanitas, enthusiasm sincere, placed his glass down and brought his hands together. Only four meetings under her belt, and already she absorbed his teachings without question. “So very wonderful. Do you wish to share further with us?”
“Yes, Mr. Vanitas, I would. It was so much easier than I could ever have imagined, really. Completely impulsive. A car accident. The road had been very slick, and I took the turn—”
“How fast were you going?” interrupted a pudgy man jammed into a tweed coat.
Mr. Vanitas glowered at Jenson; the vibe of the café quavered. Even Rita’s eyes dimmed—just a tad. Scotch eventually moistened Mr. Vanitas’ lips back to a reassuring smile. “As you were, Rita.”
“I took the turn rather fast,” daring a curt glance toward Jenson, “and then skidded. My husband has told me countless times what to do if such a thing occurred. Of course, I ignored it all. The ravine came up quickly. The tree quicker still. I never stood a chance. Beyond that, however, I’ve sadly nothing more to recount.”
From the gathering, disappointed sighs.
“Everyone, it’s okay.” Mr. Vanitas raised a bandaged hand. “What is important is that Rita took her first step. I am so very, very proud of her. Now the next time, Rita, you must focus on the retention of your sensations. What did you smell, taste…this is most important for your development.”
She withdrew a compact mirror from her purse, dabbed makeup around the concave dent in her brow. “I will certainly strive to do my best, Mr. Vanitas.”
He nodded appreciatively. “Anyone else?” His fingers worked between his shirt buttons, scratching atop ribbons of gauze.
“Yeah.” Jenson’s meaty face shimmered—a prancing goblin—within the flickering café. “I got something.” He rose from his chair, shook the coat from his arms with a chuff. Then he yanked hard on his sweater collar, revealing a welt that ringed his neck. “Hung myself,” altogether cool and matter-of-factly, “while I had my dick in my hand.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” gasped Mrs. Delancy from across the room.
“I’m not shitting any of you. Rigged the noose from my attic rafter.”
Alexander Green balled his sandwich to the other side of his cheek. “I’m surprised it held.”
From the gathering, sly chuckles. “You assholes want to hear or not?”
“Now, now, Jenson,” Mr. Vanitas scolded. “We’ll have none of that.”
“Well, we’re always talking about pushing the envelope,” Jenson snorted. “I figured, why not off myself while choking my chicken, you know?”
“Autoerotic asphyxiation is what you mean.” Glancing at the disgust creasing the pruned ruins of Mrs. Delancy’s face, Mr. Vanitas silently amused himself. “And while some within our group may be somewhat…put off…by the visuals your death may induce, I will admit, it was another admirable effort on your part.”
Jenson settled back into his chair. “Yeah, well, that ain’t the best of it. My wife tried getting me down. Dumb fuck, who would’ve figured she’d stand below me? Crushed her on my way down.”
“Cheese and crackers!” Stanley Henderson covered his mouth.
Jenson chuckled, spittle spraying his jolly cheeks. “Never even had a viewing. Her family disowned her before we met, and you know we had no kids. My own kin died awhile back, and fuck knows I never needed friends. Only ones there were the funeral director and his partner.”
Mr. Vanitas eyed Jenson carefully from above the rim of his snifter. “I was not aware of that.” He pulled his gaze away, slowly scanning the group, fixating finally on a man seated in the corner of the café. “Robert.”
The gathering froze; Alexander Green shoved shrimp back into his mouth while keeping entrails from escaping the cavity of his torso; Ms. Bernadette fingered the bubbling hole in her throat. Even Jenson stiffened, jowls blue tinged.
“Yes, Mr. Vanitas?” squeaked a shaky reply.
“What do you wish to share with us tonight?”
The man absently fumbled with his shirtsleeves. “I slit my wrists right after last month’s meeting, Mr. Vanitas.”
“Yes, of course you did, Robert. As well the meeting before that. And the one before that. Where is your sense of adventure?” He shook his head sadly. “I believe you’ve strayed from the intent of our group.”
From the gathering, a strained hush.
“I haven’t, Mr. Vanitas.”
Mr. Vanitas knocked back the remainder of his Scotch, then shattered the snifter upon the floor. “Memento mori! Do you know what that means, Robert?”
“No, Mr. Vanitas.”
“It means, remember that you will die. But do you understand what it means, Robert?”
A pitiful shake of his head.
Mr. Vanitas rose, lurched through the small arrangement toward the man. The gathering shrunk in their chairs. “Death is our inevitability, Robert. Born we are only so that we may die. Raised as children so that we may one day fit the black jeweled crown of death upon our skulls. Only the chosen may come to revel in its splendor, lather its sweet decay across perpetually damned flesh. We live only to die, and die only to die again. A fortunate lot, are we not?”
A resounding yes reverberated through the café. “And so we indulge ourselves, over and over again. But it’s never enough, Robert. In our deaths, we live out our agonies, our ecstasies, our artistic splendors. But it’s never enough…” his voice trailing away.
“So then we never die, do we, Mr. Vanitas? Not now…not ever?”
Mr. Vanitas paused in the middle of the room—deftly unbuttoned his shirt, bandaged fingers moving with fluid grace. It dropped to the floor, besides Jenson’s tweed coat. Exposed, the expanse of bloody bandages wrapping his torso; a fine mesh network. He picked at it, laboring meticulously, unsheathing ribbon by ribbon, layer by layer, until ruinous, smoking flesh peeked through; a glint of bared rib. Then lastly, with a wet rip, the veil of gauze that surrounded his head came unwound. Before them, Mr. Vanitas preened—bandages clutched tightly within each hand, a figure of charred wickedness. “Perhaps Jenson is better suited to answer your question.”
Jenson winced, the stench of broiled muscle full in his nose. “What are you talking about?”
“No one remained to see you off, is that not what you claimed, Jenson?”
The fat man’s eyes widened as Mr. Vanitas wrapped his dressings tightly around Jenson’s neck. “You see, Robert, we do not truly die until the very last person we know in life dies. Not until then.” He jerked mercilessly until Jenson’s final death wheezed from his throat. “I do expect you to die in the best interest of our group from this moment forward, Robert.”
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
a month of hopefuls
romance fragrant like a rose
dreams from the sky blow
lacy snowflakes danced
in a magical embrace
beneath the living Christmas Tree
The new year passes
“will you” and “I will”
sung in a wonderland of snow
gifts elegantly circled with red satin bows
8 knives for carving
1 rope for climbing
bridal silk embellished with white seed pearls
promises of forever
beneath the flocked Christmas Tree
trying to pull out good memories
“they must be there”
rummaging through the box of Christmas ribbon
I caress an eight inch lamp-post
to it we raised a toast
once there glowed
declaration of love
beneath our barren Christmas tree
The seasons and the gifts got stranger
oddly shaped sweater
a perfect fit
for your octopus arms
wrapped around others
untying their bows
the lamp shone green
beneath the scrawny Christmas tree
Each year’s end, always hoping
for the gold-edged red ribbon
magic sparked from its edges
hiding in fresh pine needles
tied around a ring
that hung shiny and bright
beneath the tinsel Christmas Tree
I looked for years
the ribbon it seemed
confirmer of dreams
the magic it held
would imbibe our love
restart the music
light the lamp
beneath the leaning Christmas Tree
Eons has my search
been in vain
the tree was old
no glitter nor gold
my hands reached for the ribbon
teasing, it hung in brown branches
I grasped it
the lamp-post guided the way
beneath the dead Christmas Tree
willing the magic to work
pricking my finger on a needle
rather than satiny red colored blood
I saw knives, a rope
beneath the artificial Christmas Tree
The gold-edged ribbon
about the neck of an eight inch doll
dressed in white silk
embellished with red seed pearls
an eery light flickered
beneath the strung up Christmas tree
The years of “wasted away”
I looked up eyes agape
death’s eyes dilate
no longer could they focus
all there had ever been
the light shone
on a lifeless form
beneath the fresh-cut Christmas Tree
This year a celebration
four boxes with satiny bows
covering brown stain
romantic starry-eyed blur
arms encircled her
she picked up eight seed pearls
“red, oh how festive”
“Yes,” sinister was the light in his eyes
beneath the re-gifted Christmas Tree
~ Leslie Moon
© Copyright 2013 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved.
Beneath the leafy boughs, she waits. In one slender hand she clutches a white rose. The other grasps the branch of a tree, against which she slumps like a pregnant doe. The air is heavy with spring and anticipation. She stares vacantly into the forest.
Shadows dance beneath the trees. Her sisters assume female shapes as they converge on the copse. Skeletal ladies drift from between the trees, fine cheekbones pale in the dark. Long, fleshless legs carry them to the feast. Her sisters have not fed for many days.
Perching upright in the grass, they eat slowly. Pained smiles give their faces the likeness of skulls. The feast is bountiful but they do not gorge themselves. With terrible patience they pluck out delicacies from those arrayed in the grass and bring them to their broken lips. Burs cling to their cold breasts. Leaves flow from their waists like tattered dresses stitched from moss and mulch. Their scornful laughter fills the trees.
She does not dine with her sisters. She could scream, watching them pick like mice at their spoils. Her appetites are wilder. She craves contact, warmth, light against her skin and inside it – life in the dank wetness of her womb.
Where her sisters intend mockery, she sees only envy. Their fingers are green with it. She is sick of the forest, of her siblings, of the trees; so old, so uncompromising.
But what is a dryad without its parent tree? Should she move a dozen feet from her willow – its pale skin so much like bone – she would wither and die. Such is the fate of the dryad. Such is the link between body and soul. Her fingers curl around the rose, clench tight, tremble until viridian beads trickle down its stem. She will always suffer in darkness.
But she need not suffer alone.
He is coming. Over the wet sounds of her sisters’ chewing, she can hear the crack of the forest beneath his boots. She has grown gaunt with waiting, but he has kept true to his word, at least; that red-blooded man with heat in his hands and in his loins. How could he not return, after their last encounter, when he had feasted so hungrily on the ripe flesh of her fruit? She imitates the female form so well: nature personified; the spirit of the earth and the bark and the leaf, and all the appetites that come with it. Let her sisters find satisfaction in their own way, and she in hers.
She watches them eat until they cannot eat any more and fall back from the steaming bodies in their midst. Cavernous rib cages lie cracked, exposed to the beetles and the birds. Faces stripped of their flesh stare without seeing at the trees, and the ladies in their midst; skeletal no more but plump and soft like swollen fruit. Mockery abandoned, they sprawl in the darkness, and sleep, and grow roots into the damp earth.
In the darkness of the copse, far from the world of men, where the sun struggles to reach and the soil is always moist, she turns from her sisters and begins to weep. She weeps for the forest and for love and for the feel of sunlight on her face. Is that not what the willow does best?
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2013 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.