There is a cruelty unfolding in me I didn’t know existed. The click of my heels on the pavement echoes down the street, turning heads. I wear higher heels now, shorter skirts. I no longer stick to the safety of busy streets. I tempt fate and wander into the gloom of alleyways where the losers of the city huddle and sleep. The drunken, the homeless, the pickpockets. Petty criminals with petty ambitions. I stroll through their lairs of garbage. Bleary, poisoned eyes watch me pass, staring at me in disbelief.
“Stupid bitch,” they growl at me and they lift their bottles to dying lips. I tread holes in their cardboard beds with my stilettos and kick over their little cups of change. There is nothing they can do, they can barely climb to their feet. I hear the breaking of glass and the retching cough of sickness as I walk away. You see, there is nothing in the darkness I fear because I know you’ve got your eye on me. And you won’t let anybody hurt me, will you?
How long has it been now? I can’t remember my life without you. The purring of your engine wakes me at night as you cruise by my house. You wait until I come to the window before driving away. The sound of your breath, barely audible, on the other end of the phone. I can’t say a word. Sometimes you whisper my name in a muffled voice. It has been awhile since you last called. I saw you standing by the curb looking up at my office window. I saw you getting off the bus as I got on. I saw you sitting in the coffee shop. You are a formless shadow, your face a blur. Each time you move like lightning, when I look twice you are gone.
I roam the streets until I sense you, falling into step far behind me. I have something special to show you this evening. It is a short walk away. I will lead you there. Down to the harbour and the old warehouses along the docks. Follow me through the city park. Your footsteps are a numb, hollow thud in my chest. I stop and you stop. I walk and you walk. These winding paths lead into dark patches of trees and to the brim of a still, murky lake. I wonder how many have met their end here and if I will be one of them tonight? Of course I emerge from the trees unscathed, I know when you snare me it will be by your design not mine.
I received your letter today. Each letter you send is more intimate than the last. Our time is coming isn’t it? At work I lock my office door and lay out all your letters on my desk. Smeared black ink and putrid stains. I marvel at the details you manage to detect. You know when I wear a new perfume or lipstick, you know when I’m menstruating. And the portrait you drew is beautiful. The careful way you have rendered each fine stroke of my eyelashes and hair. My eyes are large dark orbs, the light in them extinguished. The drawing stares back at me from the page, frail and petrified. It is as if I was really there before you as you drew me. You have captured it well, that is how I feel. But there are a few things about me you are yet to glimpse.
I have left it for you here, this is where we part for now. By the time you enter the warehouse I will be gone, slipping away into the dark maze of the city, far from you.
You will sense it, as soon as you set foot in the building, something is not quite right. Keep walking, up dusty flights of stairs, searching the empty floors. You will be drawn to it, like a magnet, trust yourself. This is what you do best. And then you will finally find her, over by the wall, bound to a chair with heavy tape. Will a scream, sharp as a razor, catch in your throat? Will you crumple with silent impotent tears? I thought it was best to take care of her sooner rather than later. She was distracting you. And she was beginning to get too suspicious, asking too many questions. I heard her last night nagging you through dinner. She called your office three times today just to check your whereabouts. There were a few small changes I had to make. Her eyes were the wrong colour, her nose too big, her chin was the wrong shape. And that tacky bleached hair had to go. With a face lift and a short dark wig she looks just like me, don’t you think? My scent on her body now. I dressed her in the lingerie and dress I wore when you first saw me. I thought you would like that. The first time you singled me out from the crowd, the first time I felt the suffocating weight of your gaze. Yes, our time is coming soon. We are destined to meet, as both you and I know. But not tonight.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2014 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved
Screams filled the tiny cabin as winter’s first snow blanketed the surrounding forest.
The contractions were coming on top of each other now, each wave stronger than the last, as Meredith struggled to keep Agatha calm.
An almost inhuman cry escaped Agatha’s throat as she writhed on the bed, pain biting at her abdomen.
Wiping the young woman’s brow with a damp cloth, Meredith spoke in the low, hushed tone of a midwife. “Dr. Thompson will be here soon, Agatha.”
Meredith placed her experienced hands on Agatha’s swollen belly, feeling the child roll beneath the relentless waves of uterine contractions. “Your baby’s breech. You must wait until the doctor arrives before pushing.”
The request fell upon deaf ears as searing pain radiated through the young girl’s malnourished body and she shivered on the bed, her fever raging out of control.
The door blew open and frigid winter air ransacked the space, extinguishing all but one of the flickering candles and knocking tiny heirlooms from their perches. A strange man shoved the door closed with his shoulder, set his bag on the floor and removed his coat as Agatha screamed out with an intensity that shocked both the midwife and the stranger before succumbing to unconsciousness.
“Who are you?” Meredith asked.
Confusion swept over Meredith. “But where’s Dr. Thompson?”
Dr. Brennan only rolled up his sleeves, ignoring the inquiry. “How long has she been in labor?”
Though he had not answered her question, the urgency of the situation gave Meredith no time to gauge the stranger’s true intentions. “At least four hours. I came to check on her and it had already started.”
He placed his hands on the girl’s abdomen and glanced at Meredith. “The baby’s breech and post-term. Where’s the husband?”
Meredith simply shook her head.
“The father then, where is he?”
“She does not know the name of the father.”
Meredith dabbed the young girl’s forehead as the doctor lowered accusing eyes to Agatha.
“And her parents?”
“They died two years ago, when she was sixteen. She’s been alone since.”
“Obviously not completely alone, my dear.” He motioned toward Agatha as she lay on her back, her knees bent and legs splayed open.
Meredith sensed a sharp edge to his tone, which made her uneasy. “I’ll ask you again, where is Dr. Thompson?”
The doctor looked up, his eyes narrowed atop a hooked nose. “He’s unavailable this evening. He sent me in his place.”
Dr. Brennan was a slight man, yet his demeanor was anything but. With his coat removed and sleeves rolled up, his gangly frame became quite apparent. Meredith’s eyes studied his skin, fair and paper thin, bluish-green veins mapping his forehead.
The door had been closed for several minutes, plenty of time for the fire in the corner of the room to bring the temperature of the small room up again, yet it somehow seemed to have grown colder.
Suddenly, Agatha became coherent again, just in time for another crack of pain. The baby’s appendages pressed against her abdomen, causing her taut skin to ripple. More primal screams forced Meredith to cover her ears and the doctor to pause.
Brennan placed his medical bag at the foot of the bed, shouting over Agatha’s cries. “The baby’s in danger, we have to take it through cesarean. Boil as much water as you can.”
Meredith hesitated for a moment. She’d never assisted with the surgical procedure, but Agatha’s screams, still echoing in the small cabin, were enough to command her obedience and she rushed to the stove.
Brennan reached into his bag, removed a thick roll of material and placed it on the bed. The instruments clanged as he unrolled the fabric, revealing an archaic assortment of surgical instruments, many of them scarred with badges of rust. Agatha remained still, though her breaths were short and ragged, while the doctor pulled back the blanket that had covered her from the waist down. Dr. Brennan donned a pair of gloves and proceeded to examine the girl.
Meredith returned to the room with a pot of boiling water and nearly dropped it when she saw Brennan. Surely he would discover Agatha’s secret. She cleared her throat, hoping to draw his attention away. He looked up, yet continued his work, a malevolent grin etched into his features.
Meredith’s skin crawled at the sight of Brennan as he probed the young girl. The look on his face was not one of a physician examining a patient; it was the expression of someone enjoying something he clearly should not.
After a few prolonged seconds, he removed the gloves, stood up from between the girl’s legs and motioned to the nightstand beside the bed. “Set the water there.”
Grabbing several straps from his bag, he proceeded to secure the girl’s wrists and ankles to the bedposts. Meredith stood near the head of the bed, again tending to the girl’s sweat-laden brow with a moist rag.
Meredith hadn’t noticed before, but a persistent, uncomfortable scent now hung in the air, a putrid combination of mildew and scorched hair.
Writhing in agony, Agatha thrashed against the bindings as Meredith watched the doctor prepare his instruments. Using a colander-like apparatus, he lowered a handful of instruments into the water. “Boil this for 5 minutes,” he said, handing the pot to Meredith.
Meredith scurried to the stove with the heavy load.
Brennan lowered his gaze to the wailing girl sprawled out before him. The blanket had fallen to the floor, leaving Agatha naked and exposed. Each new contraction brought her pain to a crescendo, the thick veins of her neck bulging like ropes buried beneath her skin as she cried out.
The doctor prepared a cleansing solution and applied it to Agatha’s abdomen, covering the stretched skin of her belly. The fire still burned in the corner of the room, yet the temperature in the cabin continued to drop.
Meredith returned with the instruments to find Dr. Brennan feeling Agatha’s abdomen, calculating his plan for the procedure.
“Put them there.” He motioned to the bedside table.
Brennan held up a syringe in the candlelight and applied pressure on the plunger to clear the air from the contents. A drop of medicine escaped the tip and traced its way toward the hub.
The doctor plunged the needle into the girl’s thigh and within seconds, the writhing ceased and Agatha lay still, vacant eyes fixed on the orange light as it danced across the ceiling.
“How long will she be out?” Meredith asked.
“Long enough for me to remove the baby. Now, gather all the towels and blankets we have.”
Meredith left the bedside, returning seconds later with several blankets and towels.
Brennan readied the scalpel and pressed it to Agatha’s flesh, her fair skin splitting to reveal a thin layer of glistening, yellow fat. Blood pooled in the wound before running in streams down the girl’s sides, pitter-pattering to the floor. Meredith’s knees nearly unhinged but she managed to lock them tight. Bile rose in her gullet and she swallowed it, droplets of sweat sprouting on her brow. She’d never seen so much blood. She moved to Agatha’s head, focusing on the dilated pupils of the mother-to-be, dabbing sweat as it beaded on her skin.
Brennan worked fastidiously to expose the girl’s uterus, stuffing towels into the wound as he progressed, attempting to ebb the flow of crimson fluid as it seeped from the girl’s sedate body.
“Who else knows of the girl’s pregnancy?” Brennan broke the palpable tension as plumes of his breath escaped into the ever-colder room.
Caught off guard by the question, Meredith hesitated before answering. “No one. She has no family and very few friends, none of whom have seen her since she began to show.”
“Very good.” He brought another blanket onto the bed next to where he was working. “You’ve examined her, have you not?”
“Of course.” Meredith turned to face the doctor.
“Then you and I both know this is a rather unusual pregnancy.”
Meredith’s mind whirled, searching for a response. “I’m not sure I…”
“Don’t lie to me. You know as well as I, this girl has never been with a man. She’s as pure as the newly fallen snow.” Brennan waved a bloodied hand towards the window.
Brennan peered up from the task at hand, snaring Meredith’s gaze with his own. The doctor raised a blood soaked finger to the tip of his tongue. His eyes closed and he exhaled a devious breath, sending Meredith’s pulse pounding. Brennan’s mouth twisted into a wicked smile, as if it had been etched into his skin with a knife, and he opened his eyes, now inky black pools of malicious intent. “There’s nothing so sweet as the blood of a virgin.”
Meredith sprang to her feet and grabbed one of the sharp implements from the bed. “Who are you?”
Brennan set his instrument down and cocked his head to one side. Agatha continued to bleed as the doctor ceased his efforts to stem the copious amounts of blood from hitting the floor, shimmering silhouettes of spilled life pooled on the wood.
“I am a friend of the baby’s father.” He stood and drew a finger through Agatha’s blood covered abdomen leaving an S-like pattern in its wake. “He has sent me here to deliver his son.”
Meredith backed away, keeping the instrument between Brennan and herself. “He? What are you doing here?” Her body trembled from the cold and adrenaline coursing through her veins.
Agatha convulsed on the bed, thrashing in the bindings, blood more free flowing than ever.
“Help her! She’s going to die!”
Brennan looked over his shoulder. “Oh yes, she is going to die. It’s too late to help her even if I wanted to. And besides, that was never the plan.”
In the corner of the room, the fire matured, heat finally radiating through the space, as the stench settled into the room, even more rancid than before.
On the bed, Agatha ripped an arm free from the bindings and clawed at her protruding womb. Amniotic fluid gushed from her abdomen as her other hand broke free and dug at the gaping wound.
Meredith screamed and darted for the door but Brennan lurched at her and grabbed her by the hair, pulling her to him while her hands whirled in the air. His other arm wrapped around her chest and squeezed until she struggled to breathe. Brennan nuzzled his nose behind her ear and inhaled, holding it for a few seconds before releasing it in a deep, noxious breath.
The front door burst open and a silhouette loomed in the opening. “Enough, Abaddon,” a calm, yet booming voice spoke from the doorway. “Let me see her face.”
Abaddon or Brennan, whoever he was, obeyed as Meredith’s legs nearly gave out at the sight of the ominous figure that whirled into view, her head swimming in confusion.
Stepping into the light, revealing his true self, the towering intruder strode towards the bed, cloven hooves pressing into the age-marred floors. Agatha, reeling in shock, looked into the malevolent face of the father of her child. Reaching his massive hands into the yawning belly of the young girl, he tore into the exposed womb and retrieved his son, hoisting the newborn into the air, admiring him from all angles. “You are your father’s son, seedling, and you shall carry out my every desire as your own.”
With those words, the devil left the cabin with his son and vanished into the surrounding snow-covered woods, leaving Abaddon alone with the women.
Screams filled the tiny cabin.
~ Craig McGray
© Copyright 2014 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.
Face stark crazed, she hurried him inside.
Fingers dug into his arms. Behind him, the door slammed; a rush of damp air scurried across his neck. Standing in the cramped foyer, he listened as she manhandled the security chains of the door. She squeezed past, breathless.
“Autumn employs a particularly nasty bite this evening, does it not?” He spoke softly, removing the knit cap from his head, the trench coat from his wiry frame.
Window to window she bounded, balling drapes into shaking fists, drawing them shut. He noted her white, swollen knuckles. Candlelight flickered from atop a mantle, yet a state of melancholic gloom smothered the parlor. “Excuse me. Your appearance is other than what one might expect.”
“I am a mere man, nothing more. For some, perhaps, much less,” he draped the coat over his arm.
“You are a Sin Eater.”
He hoped his client would find relief in the plastic twist of his lips. “I am at that. May I?”
“Of course,” she nodded an invitation into the parlor.
The house frowned upon his presence; bare floorboards protested each of his steps. From the fireplace, a draft moaned. “Forgive my nerves,” her lips twitched. “We require our privacy. If the Church were to ever—”
“If this were the nineteenth century then surely we would have need to conceal our identities. Execution would no doubt be favored if my practice was to be learned and as for you…things would be difficult indeed. Be thankful the Church no longer functions in such barbaric fashion.”
“Yet privacy must still be maintained.” Her posture remained stiff. Orange light remolded her face.
He bowed slightly. “Privacy? Or secrecy? I said the Church no longer functions in such a way. Their belief, however, is another matter entirely. Per our contract, your identity shall remain guarded. As will mine.”
Murmurs drifted through the house. She followed the shift of his intense though starry gaze. “The deceased is in the bedroom.”
She led him down a hallway; leering faces stared out from faded, crooked photographs. Dust littered the floor. A sour pungency wafted under his nose; death’s perfume, so unmistakable. She paused before an open door. Nodding politely, he stepped through.
Surrounding the bed, three men lifted their gazes as one, faces waxed yellow beneath an uncovered bulb. He ignored them, attention focused upon the deceased. Lips parted in a last, eternal gasp, the corpse waited. Clots of sheets remained within its stiffened fingers. “He suffered until the very end,” the Sin Eater said matter-of-factly.
“What difference does it make?” Across the bed leaned a man with a bulbous skull; his jowls quivered as he spoke: “My brother didn’t suffer enough.”
The Sin Eater looked upon him. “Are you responsible for contacting me?”
“Yes,” again spoke Bulbous Skull.
“So who are the others?”
“Also my brothers.”
“You said you would be alone in your house, save your wife.”
“Listen, they all stay. And shame on you if you think this hell hole is my house. Remember the money I’m paying you!”
The Sin Eater turned away, mindful his eyes churned a stormier grey when agitated. “As you wish.”
“Hurry it up. I need to call the coroner when you’re done.”
He touched a blue tinged arm. Practiced fingers slid upward, stroking the corpse’s neck, then face, like an affectionate lover. The Sin Eater froze. “You lied to me.”
Bulbous Skull stole a nervous glance at his brothers. “I don’t know what—”
“You told me he raped four women, and still you and your family harbored him from the law. Yet more remains untold. You will tell me the truth.” The brothers saw his eyes now, witnessed their wrathful leadenness.
Sweat beaded across Bulbous Skull’s brow, appearing like droplets of piss under the light. “Three. Three kids…” his voice faded.
The Sin Eater understood the implication at once. He straightened himself beside the corpse. “Extra sins…extra compensation.”
“Extra sins, extra compensation. It is quite simple. You have breached our agreement, not the other way around.”
“Ten thousand. If you argue, I walk away. Be mindful that your brother’s sins will never be absolved from you then. Nor your families. You all have children of your own, do you not?”
Bulbous Skull’s mouth opened in argument; eventually his lips sealed. His shoulders slumped. “Ten thousand.”
“Excellent. A new agreement. A better understanding,” the Sin Eater smiled. “I have done this long enough to realize my clients will never admit all sins the first time around. Likewise, if you are in position to afford my services, then surely you will be in position to hold an abundance of cash.”
From under the deceased’s bed, Bulbous Skull pulled a briefcase and popped it open. He promptly passed two wrapped bundles of hundred dollar bills. “You’re a prick.”
“Yes. I know.” The Sin Eater took the bundle, nestled it into the folds of his trench coat. Then placed it atop an empty chair in the corner of the room, his hat as well. “Shall I begin?”
Bulbous Skull called to his wife. She appeared in the doorway, chipped platter in hands. Trembling, she stared intently upon its holdings—a heaping of salt, loaf of thickly crusted bread. A smudged pint of ale. Once the Sin Eater retrieved her burden, she fled back down the hall.
He placed the platter atop the floor, knelt beside the bed. Immediately, he pinched the salt, sprinkled it liberally across the corpse’s chest. “Thy burden, I offer thee salt.” He bowed his head in supplication. Retrieved the loaf from the floor, placed it atop the salt. Several minutes ticked away.
The Sin Eater rose, loomed over the corpse. “Thy burden, I devour thee.” He snatched the loaf like some bird of prey, delivered it to his lips, but the crusted bread seemed impossibly large to accept. Eyes rolling, the Sin Eater opened his mouth.
The brothers jerked in their chairs; the Sin Eater’s jaw dropped to an unnatural depth, skin along his cheek yielding like some thin sheet of cellophane. Lower and lower—saliva breached his lips, lids fluttering atop the whites of his eyes. Lower and lower—the jaw hung slack, swaying like a pendulum. Into that black yawning cavern, the Sin Eater pushed the loaf, upper teeth digging into the crust while his lower mandible shifted side to side. Inch by inch—the loaf disappeared, throat, neck bulging grotesquely, laden with its pardoned meal. Finally, the jaw retracted; his skin drew back to form. With a single finger, the Sin Eater flicked the loaf’s last crumb from his lip. He bent, took his ale, gulped until only froth clung to the bottom of the glass.
“Lord fucking Christ,” Bulbous Skull gasped. “You can’t be human.”
The Sin Eater smirked. “Our business is done.” He returned the pint alongside the platter, retrieved his trench and hat.
He strode back down the listless hallway, into the pool of trembling light. He found his client’s wife waiting in the foyer, door ajar. “God gave him his cancer,” she spat. “We were right to shelter him, no matter his sins. We knew God would provide the balance, sooner or later. And He did.”
“I am not your confessional booth, dear lady.” He dressed in silence, felt the bulge of cash against his ribs. Then in the shimmering candlelight, he took her into his arms, his sudden kiss upon her lips a long but gentle one. She yielded in surprise. When bits of bread clotted her mouth, however, her knees buckled and she shoved him away.
“For your peace, I pawn my own soul,” the Sin Eater grinned from the corner of his mouth. Eventually, this family would contact him again. Extra sins, extra compensation. He slipped out the door, back into the angry gnash of autumn’s bite.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2014 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
Pushed to the edge of despair
this rocky place offers no hope
fear lapping ankles around
against empty waters we grope
silent, though nothing is still
fear pounds loudly our hearts
no where have we left to hide
cold surrounds each, every part
though I stand here in a crowd
ice-cube tray we all huddle
so alone am I in this moment
shivering my blood froths til
the predator, dark he has come
my bones weaken and shudder
they know but their glance faints away
no consolation have we left to utter
past this place my eyes strain to gaze
beyond, bare feet rub raw
our ancestors’ bones all the same
torn clean, foul consuming claw
child’s distant cry distills thoughts
though sanguine I have become
what courage there once was
I offer myself that you might run
slowly the creature now circles
selection part of its way
it has broken much in its jaws
I offer to be its next prey
Large “It” opens like a cave
stalactite are its teeth that rake
dripping with frosty blood
putrid tunnel offers no escape
will memory mine be but a creature belch
bravery had run out its course
screaming meets my ears
my own that have now been scorched
I am but an appetizer
“flee” last words from my lips
“before you become the main meal”
metered crunching I hear as it rips
how quiet are the skulls
resting as stones a score
laying once living and free
no more on this cavernous floor
~ Leslie Moon
© Copyright 2014 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved