I smell the burning varnish used to coat the stalls long before I first notice that the stables are ablaze. My initial thought is that someone is having a bonfire. I sometimes light bonfires myself, when the pile of broken fence slats and posts behind the tack room grows too great. Those fires smell of burning varnish too. The chemical tang of solvent fills my throat.
After several minutes of the smell, I am drawn from the kitchen, where I was cooking myself dinner, to the conservatory. I cannot remember how I came to be standing in the kitchen, or what I was cooking, but that must have been what I was doing. It is then, as I move towards the glass, that I see the distant glow of flames in the darkness. My chest tightens, but I do not move. I can do nothing except stare, transfixed, at the uncertain orange in the night.
The house sits at the top of a hill, where it has a clear view of the paddocks and the surrounding countryside. Mine is the only house for miles around. I have seen many things, standing at the conservatory windows, but never this. Even as I watch, the flames scatter higher, the tips of their tongues licking the moon and the stars. Most of the stars have vanished. The same chemical that fills my nose and mouth gives off a dense black smoke, through which even starlight cannot shine. The stables were recoated recently, to protect them from the coming winter. The coat was fresh. The smoke makes monstrous clouds before the moon.
From the cool, bright confines of the conservatory, I might be watching a television screen, or peering through space into a different place where there is no glass, no pale spotlights, no lace doylies or marble Olympians; only blackness and heat and the savage light that comes when these two things collide. The paddocks that I have fenced off and knocked down and re-fenced for twenty years flicker ominously. Jumps and their poles cast long-legged silhouettes across the ground. The stable walls lose definition, sagging on their frames, slumping softly, cracking and becoming black before drifting hotly on the wind; new stars, made for a blacker, more noxious night.
I realise that I should call the fire brigade. The telephone is in the hallway, at the bottom of the stairs. It will take me moments to walk there, lift the handset, dial the number that will bring fire engines, but my legs will not move. Even before I hear the screams, I know it is already too late.
The wild sounds stir me to movement. My hand slides to the key on the coffee table. Automatically I open the door and wander outside. The wind is strong. I can feel it against my face, see it as it toys with the flames. The taste in my mouth is poisonous, the breeze cold, my cheeks wet. I realise I am crying.
I first see them as I wander down the hill. It is not a long walk from my house to the stables, but it feels like forever in the darkness. I marvel how anything can burn for so long and not be consumed. I wonder if time is passing or if I have died and am forced to endure this endless conflagration forever.
The first of the horses bursts like a fireball from the stables. A bright orange mane of another kind streams from its hair and back. It does not seem like my horse anymore; this burning mass of muscle, fat, bone and primal terror. I cannot see its eyes at this distance, but I know they are white, its mouth frothing, if the froth has not been scorched away.
A second animal tumbles madly in its wake. It emerges from the next stall but does not make it far before crumpling to the ground. The smell on my tongue accrues a meatiness that is not altogether distasteful. Licking my lips, I turn to the hedgerow and dry-heave.
Three more of the horses scatter like cinders into the night. Theirs is the screaming; fire-song composed of ash and agony. I realise that I should call the fire brigade. The telephone is in the hallway, at the bottom of the stairs. I wonder if I have died, and found my way to Hell. Over and over, the giddy screams of the horses pierce my ears.
My feet guide me to where the nearest of the horses fell. It does not look like a horse anymore; reduced to a smoking heap of charred blackness. There are glistening spots, which I assume are bone or some other internal structure made liquid and shining by the heat, and protruding sticks that might once have been its forelegs. The wood-fires behind the tack shed go much the same way, when they burn themselves out. The iron nails that once held the fences together grow black and white and twitch like slim maggots. Perhaps the horse and the nails are not so dissimilar after all. Perhaps we are none of us so different; metal, flesh, warped wood and old bone made up of the same base structures, atoms and molecules revealed now, unmasked by firelight, released by heat into the sky, stardust to stars again, like barbequed meat on my tongue!
At some point, when the fires reach their zenith and begin to quieten, I find myself walking back up the hill. In the hallway, at the bottom of the stairs, I lift the receiver and dial the fire brigade. I tell them I was sleeping, and when I woke my stables were ablaze. There is nothing else I can say.
The sight from my conservatory is much different, now. The fires have almost exhausted themselves, but there is still a bright glow, a smouldering redness in the night. I imagine it is the fire’s pulse, beating low, almost spent as it licks its lips and yawns and succumbs to death. I close the conservatory door, to keep out the cold and the smell, but the smell has already saturated the house.
Shortly, the night will fill with screams again as the fire engines carve blue flashing paths through the vast night. The darkness seems bigger now, emptier without the fire.
The smoke is thinner too, almost run out, and I can see the stars again. They wink down at me from the coldness of space, and I imagine they are my horses, some skeletal, others plump and round-bellied, running through the night, manes and tails and thundering hooves alight and glorious.
I do not think I will ever stop seeing my horses, galloping overhead. I will never forget their stench, burned into my soul and the walls of my house. And when I turn in for bed, and close my eyes, and fall asleep, I will hear their mad whinnies again; this nightmare, luminous and alive.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2014 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved
How long has it been? No way to keep track. Not in here; not in this crypt. I’m sure the humans know. Once, they were prey; I was the hunter, too powerful for defeat. How long since they dug this pit and threw me in? Imprisoning and confining me to this tomb? These stone walls: built to contain; to prevent my escape. Impenetrable; unbeatable. That’s their belief; makes them feel safe; makes them forget. Time will be their undoing. Look there! See the plants? Slowly, they’ve found a weakness; slipping in through cracks. A way in, is a way out.
The time is nigh. He feels it, smells it, tastes it. The rocks encased in the cement binding the wall together tingle with excitement. Leaves growing within the cracks between the rocks turn towards the sound of foot steps.
The fool approaches. Each step brings him ever closer to his destiny.
Anticipation hangs heavy in the air.
The young man is entranced by the wall. Stepping closer, the leaves reach out to him and force him flush against the structure. His spirit and the soul trapped within the wall exchange places.
He walks away, a devilish grin on his face.
The grating whisper of movement over rock and stone pull me from my long slumber. Sweet bipedal things, wet and soft, are often driven by curiosity into these cavernous depths.
Warm hands grip the cold rocks as they descend with their blasphemous light. Their tasty meat, covered by cloth and rope, awakens my ravenous hunger. One draws near, its eyes focused on where it climbs, unaware it just took its last breath.
No scream escapes its crushed throat. Through his terrified mind I see my eyeless face and gaping maw until his death closes the vision and my meal begins.
Etch away the soil of my heart. Let the roots and tendrils cling.
Where once blood flowed upon a course, there pulses a stony thing.
Nothing do I feel but cold. But when I lay me down…
A hatchet set to “swoosh” and “ching”; a dark and eery sound.
Young and fair my head to rest . Choice sinews for carrion to shred.
They laughed so coarsely in the crowd; fools believed I was dead.
I will get my pound of flesh when next I am set free.
Beware those who have put me here. A rock cannot hear your pleas.
Life, all life, is cannibalistic. The temperate way to say this is ‘cyclical’, but let’s be honest, the transition isn’t exactly a smooth one. Some take the phoenix perspective, where life rises in miraculous fashion from impossible means. And, I say, that is nothing but ignorance. Nature survives on destruction, it requires death. This malformed wall, for example, was built with more than stone—a mortar made of mud and human remains. The bodies of Jewish children stacked atop their brothers and mothers by “superior” humans; Aryans advancing by killing. And, from this concentrated death, green nature shamelessly grows anew.
The secrets of the cave were no secret to Ravena. She’d seen what happened to those who wandered too close, and it fascinated her: the screams as the inhabitants revealed themselves; the panic when victims realized that there was no escape; the blissful sound of ripping flesh, the tearing of sinew as the creatures devoured their meal. Even as a child, she found delight in the slaughter and dreamt of the day when she might partake in the massacre. She would wait no longer as today was her eighteenth birthday and two adventurous campers had just strayed from their group.
Your bodies slid over one another, lubricated by sweat and the warming oil from your bedside drawer. I watched for as long as I could, hypnotised by your sinuous limbs.
“I’m sorry,” you said afterwards. You said other things too; empty words as hollow as the hole in my heart. “LonelyfrustratedIdon’tlovehimyouareneverhere.”
When your speech was finished, I took the bedside lamp to your head. You died in a flash of light. I buried you in the dark, beneath the stone wall between our garden and the fields behind. Nettles grow there now. In the summer, butterflies dance over your grave.
Joseph A. Pinto
And now there is nothing, nor shall there ever be; from light I have walled myself. Immurement eternal; so shall I become one with stone. My fortress, my penitentiary – a fitting fate; obscurity wrapped as melded shawl round my shoulders. Yet still you find your way, flitting ‘tween cracks I believed mortared so long ago. Ivy seeks my companionship; so too do you seek to entwine my heart. But I have grown unjustly hardened, so wrongly decayed. Leave me, do you hear? I deserve as much. Let me solidify as I contemplate the ways I have erred, gone wrong.
From impenetrable depths I hear a single word drifting on stone-cold breath: Come. The shadows beckon me; an icy existence beyond pain calls to one of its ilk – a destroyed soul, my soul. The nether recognizes its own; the summons continues. I stumble forward, grasping desperately at sanity. Home, it murmurs seductively. I scream my need for shrouded deliverance. Reaching a desperate hand forward, I place it upon the stone, follow the path into dappled darkness, but no matter the length of my stride, sanctuary eludes me; the promise is shattered. I’ll forever chase shadows that reveal nothing but light.
Smell the rot you will soon become as your eyes close for the final time. You have always been within my grasp; you have always been mine.
Rest against my ancient skin; hard as rock, cold as stone. Flay yourself against my edge: sharp, cruel, merciless. Feel the warmth drain away, blood turns to ice in your veins. The pain of your myth subsides. Breath escapes as mist, a long held speechless gasp. Before you infinite nothingness, mocking laughter.
I will swallow you whole and fold the illusion of time. Rest against my ancient skin; you have always been mine.
Skulls. I’m surrounded by skulls.
“Wait, wait, don’t leave me here!” Sweat pumped from Jarod’s pores. Was it the pain from the compound fracture? Or was it the skulls?
“You can’t leave me here with all these dead people!”
Steve turned his headlamp into the crevasse. It couldn’t penetrate the pitch. Somewhere down there, his friend was losing it.
“We’ll be back with help. Just hang tight, Jarod!” he shouted.
“They’re only stones, buddy,” Steve added. “It’s the shock. It’ll wear off.”
Jarod stared at the wall’s rock face.
“Heh, heh,” something cackled.
The first stone shifted.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
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The throaty growl of the engine rumbled louder as he sped up. Wind whipped his long dark hair behind him as he gunned his motorcycle through the curve. The open road was freedom. It didn’t care who or what you were. He was a nomad, a vagabond whose passing was rarely noticed or remembered. His home had always been the desolate roads and byways where bad things happened.
Connor rode past decomposing roadkill and his stomach growled. His peculiar diet meant he didn’t need to eat often, but it had been a while so he would need to feed soon.
He followed a small group of bikers as they pulled off the highway and made their way down the exit to a small service area with less than a dozen buildings. They rode past a large café and pulled into a gas station. Fortunately for Connor, he needed gas too.
Connor’s bike roared as he pulled into the gas station and stopped across from the pump where the three bikers had started to fill up. All three turned their heads when Connor got off his bike. Connor’s jacket had symbols and patches all over it, and he could hear the other bikers whispering about what club he was with, and whether or not he should be on their turf. Territorial disputes among bikers were an issue Connor had dealt with before.
He listened to their hushed conversations as he filled up his tank. They had almost decided to leave him alone when Connor pulled the nozzle out and turned to put it away. He squeezed the handle as he turned and shot a stream of gasoline onto the bike closest to him. There was an immediate look of wanton violence on the other biker’s faces. The largest of the three walked towards Connor and growled as he spoke. “What the fuck do you think you’re doin’?”
“I thought that would have been obvious,” Connor replied as he put his gas cap back on. “I’m gassing up.”
“What in the hell did you just say? You being a smartass with me, punk?”
Conner turned his full attention to the three bikers. His dark brown eyes casually regarded the pissed off group. “I’d rather be a smartass than a dumbass, so I guess that means I’m a step ahead of you.”
The large biker reached under his jacket and started to pull something out when one of his buddies stopped him. “Take it easy, Strider, maybe this guy needs an education more than a hole in his gut.”
The second biker turned Strider around and showed Connor the back of the jacket. “See this? Do you know what this is? Do you know who we are?”
Connor stepped in front of his bike and looked at the jacket. “Well,” he sighed, “those are the brightest green letters I’ve ever seen on a jacket, and then there’s some kind of red devil or something equally idiotic.”
Strider pointed a finger at Connor, “You better get on that shitty bike and ride hard, man. We have a saying around here – ‘We give what we get.’ You’ve had your fun with us, but shit is going to get ugly if we meet up with you again.”
Connor watched the angry bikers ride off and grinned. “Maybe I’ll get something to eat after all.”
“Here’s your coffee,” said the waitress. Her voice held the bored rhythm of a person that has trudged through the same routine for far too long. He thought she seemed like a caged animal pacing back and forth in her daily routine. Connor reached for the coffee and thanked her. The rumble of motorcycle engines came from down the street putting the waitress and other clients on-edge. Connor had picked up the sound of the approaching motorcycles long before and was expecting them. More than a dozen bikers pulled into the cafe’s lot and waited.
Connor stood up from the booth, put a twenty on the table, walked out the door and stood on the stoop while he slowly finished his coffee. The apparent leader of the group slid off his bike and spoke up. “I hear you’ve been giving a few of my boys a hard time.”
“Your boys,” Connor replied as he walked towards his own motorcycle, “were looking for trouble. I was just looking for fuel.”
“Bullshit,” yelled Strider as he walked towards the leader. “The sonofabitch splashed our bikes with gas and still had the balls to talk shit to us.”
The bald leader pointed at Connor. “Sounds like you are the one looking for trouble. I can see it in your eyes. You should be more careful in places like this, especially riding all alone like you are. I think me and my boys will ride out-of-town with you, you know, escort you so you don’t run into any trouble.”
Rowdy laughs came from the rest of the bikers. Connor walked over to his bike, slowly climbed on, and started it up. “Nice of you to offer, sparky, but I need something to eat more than I need an escort.”
“You have balls,” growled the leader, “but you earned an escort, so like it or not, you’re getting one.”
Connor smiled as he pulled onto the road. The gang followed close behind. The group moved slowly until they were on Route 66. Once they were all on the open road, Connor turned around and flipped them off. The gang tried to catch him, but Connor’s bike was faster and easily left them behind. A few miles later, he slowed down to take a side road, and the bikers were able to see where Connor went. He sped down various canyons and dirt roads until he came around a final bend and found himself blocked by a washed out arroyo.
Connor had just turned his bike around when the entire gang rounded the corner and blocked the road. The looks on their faces spoke volumes. Connor had no misconceptions about what was about to happen. Furious, the bikers hopped off their rides and surrounded Connor.
“Well, smartass, this is where you’re going to die. But not until after we break every bone in your body.”
Connor climbed off his bike and walked towards the leader. “I’ll let you guys go first, and then it will be my turn.”
The bikers all rushed in. A wicked first swing connected solidly with Connor’s mouth, another biker threw a fist into Connor’s kidney, and then it got ugly. The bikers took turns in groups of three, kicking and punching. Every biker had a few chances to pummel Connor until the bald leader told the guys to back up. Connor was on his knees. His face was swollen, his jaw dislocated, and even his arms and legs looked swollen and misshapen. Connor looked up, blood pouring from his mouth, nose and ears. A deep laugh erupted from his split lips. His voice sounded strange, somehow changed during the beating. “You’re going to shit bricks when you see what’s coming next.”
“Strider,” screamed the leader, “get the bat. It’s time to end this.”
Strider came over with a baseball bat and handed it over. Connor smiled as the biker swung the bat. Each swing slamming into him with a loud thump and crack. Connor was hit in the back, the arms, the legs, and then once across the head. He fell to the ground as he was beat over and over again.
The leader was breathing heavily when the bat finally broke across Connor’s back. The bikers stepped in close to inspect the damage. Connor’s only movement came from the rise and fall of his back as he breathed. His legs looked swollen with the lower halves twisted in the wrong direction. The leather jacket was in bad shape; split and torn in numerous places. It was bulging with what appeared to be a huge amount of swelling from underneath.
One of the bikers leaned over and lifted Connor’s head by his long hair. The biker gasped and jumped back. “Fucking hell,” the biker swore as he looked at the others, “you should see his face. It’s changed!”
“No shit it changed,” roared the leader. “Most of us hit him in the face, Junkyard is wearing brass knuckles, and I hit his head with the bat. His face is going to be a little jacked up. He should have died by now. Somebody cut his throat; let’s bleed him out.”
Muffled laughter came from the prostrate figure. A few of the bikers stepped back, uneasy with how things were going. Connor pushed himself to his knees. The hair on his head covered his face and hung down to his large shoulders. He slowly climbed to his feet. Just the fact that he could still move after the beating he took scared the shit out of the other bikers.
The leather jacket hung in tatters over Connor’s changed frame. His shoulders appeared to have dropped slightly, and his arms looked longer. His hands looked thicker; his fingers lengthened. Long black hair hung in a clotted mess all over his oddly shaped head. He reached up with clawed fingers and pulled the hair out of his face. Shock drove the entire group to terrified silence.
Connor’s jaw hung low and was thick with muscle, bone and hair. His mouth protruded from his face to allow for large, sharp fangs. Connor’s nose was black, had spread out, and the nostrils had widened into elongated slits. His eyes were large and bright yellow rather than the brown from before. Hard angles of bone and claw were contrasted by twitching chords of muscle. The hair from his deformed head mixed with a mane of fur that covered Connor’s wide shoulders and flowed down the middle of his back.
He reached up with one of his hands and pawed at a string of saliva that was hanging from his lupine teeth. Oddly pronounced words tumbled from a mouth designed for killing and eating, not speaking.
“Now, it’s my turn.”
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2014 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved
The flames swayed in the light breeze of the ceiling fan. Still, they burned strong and bright. To Dustin they were scorching eyes glaring at him straight out of Hell, all ten of them. Beads of red wax rolled down the candles and pooled like blood on the iced surface below.
He wanted nothing more than to forget his birthday altogether.
His family would have obliged him, but not this year. It was an even numbered year—a check year. The celebration was more for them than for him.
Dustin was the youngest of three boys in a family bonded tight to their kin. The problem was Dustin wasn’t kin. He was adopted. Orphaned as an infant, he never knew his parents. Supposedly, they were killed in a botched break in, but the details, as told to Dustin, were always watered down or vague.
The Thompsons, neighbors to his parents at the time, offered to take him in. The justice system granted their request since no other relatives were known and there was an existing connection between the families. The court also awarded the Thompsons’ rights to Dustin’s inheritance, doled out in biennial support checks; the same frequency with which they chose to celebrate his birthday.
“Better get them all, Dusty.” Tucker said and punched Dustin in the ribs. Tucker was the younger of his two foster brothers, but still five years his senior. The brothers both displayed the Ginger linage that dominated the Thompson bloodline—fiery red hair, freckles, pale skin, and a lean but strong frame that matched well with their innate aggression.
The unexpected blow sent a dull burning pain through Dustin’s chest, shortening his breath. He winced as much from the nickname as the punch. He hated that name. The foster brothers dubbed him Dusty because his bedroom was nothing more than a mattress tossed in the middle of the dirt floor basement. At least he didn’t have to sleep down there tonight. Every two years, after his birthday dinner, Dustin was allowed to spend the night in his ‘for-show’ bedroom. It was a small room with minimalistic décor for guests, unless Child Services stopped by to check on Dustin, then a few posters, books, and toys were sprinkled around.
“Yeah,” Barney added, giving Dustin a punch of his own. “Blow hard or take the curse.”
Dustin tried to ignore their taunts like usual, but this time their jibes hit a weak spot. He’d been dreading this moment ever since they told him about the curse on Tucker’s birthday.
— Four Months Earlier (Tucker’s Birthday) —
“What are you waiting for, Tuck? Worried you’ll miss a few?” Barney said, laughing.
“Shut up, asshole. I’m just thinking of what to wish for, is all.”
A moment later, Tucker sucked down a deep breath and exhaled across the cake. The candles went out one by one. The teen’s lungs hit empty as the 15th flame flickered. In that moment, with the lone candle still fighting to stay aflame, his eyes widened. Everyone stared, motionless and silent. It fluttered, clinging to life, but ultimately extinguished in a puff of smoke.
Tucker finally drew a new breath.
“Ha! Nice one.” Barney congratulated his brother with a slap on the back.
Dustin looked at them, his brow creased by confusion, “Why were you so worried about that last candle?”
“I wasn’t worried, you moron.” Tucker shouted.
“What?” Barney turned his attention to Dustin. “You don’t know about the Anti-Wish?”
Mr. Thompson shook his head and smiled as he went about cutting the cake.
Tucker hopped off the chair to join in the fun.
“When the Birthday boy or girl doesn’t blow out all the candles in one breath, they get the Candle-Curse.”
“And the remaining flames act as a doorway from Hell where demons escape to exact their dark deeds upon the failed candle blower,” Barney explained, speaking in a campfire spook-story voice.
“Demons?” Dustin asked incredulously.
“The demons take the wish, twist it into a curse, and make it come true.”
Dustin watched the brothers for a moment, looking for a tell, a punch line.
“Yeah right, whatever.”
Barney lowered his gaze. “We’re serious. What do you think caused Jonnie Schnelling to get hit by a school bus last year? And, what about Mr. Beakman’s science class explosion that melted off half his face? That had to be the Anti-Wish.”
“Jacqueline next door, she blew out her knee just walking down the street.” Tucker added. “I saw her miss some candles at her birthday party the week before. Everyone knows she wished for faster legs. She was tired of losing track trophies to her sister, Tonya.”
“I don’t blame her for being jealous; Tonya’s hot—ripe for the picking. I’d love to have a shot at her cherry. I bet she’s dying to get dirty.” Barney sucked his teeth as he groped himself.
Mrs. Thompson shook her head. “Alright, settle down boys.”
“Don’t talk about her like that.” Dustin said, scowling.
Tucker laughed. “Awe, Dusty’s got a hard-on for her.”
“Shut up!” Dustin shouted back.
Their mother stood up. “Dustin, stop fighting with your brothers. I’m tired of hearing you talk to your older brothers that way.” She handed a piece of cake to everyone but Dustin and made a show of dropping his slice in the trash. “Now wash your mouth out with soap and go to bed.”
Dustin bit his lip and left the table.
“Your birthday’s coming up soon,” Barney called after him. “Better practice blowing out candles or you might get cursed.”
— The Present (Dustin’s Birthday) —
Dustin watched the flames dance. In the darkness of the dining room, the candles cast a horrid glow on the faces of his foster family, exaggerating their expressions into psychotic masks. They were all grinning as they watched him, but not all for the same reasons. The boys were clearly excited at the chance to see him get the curse, and Dustin knew the mother and father were happy that his birthday meant the arrival of another check.
But as Dustin hesitated in front of the lit cake, some of the smirks fell to impatience and annoyance.
Mr. Thompson sighed and leaned on his elbows.
“Get on with it, will you?” Mrs. Thompson said, rolling her eyes.
Barney tossed his hands over his head. “Geez, just pick something already. Here, let me help you… How about you wish for a pair of balls?”
Dustin closed his eyes and tried to calm the jackhammer in his chest.
“Poor Dusty’s scared.” Tucker hugged him in mock concern.
Dustin ignored him, but he couldn’t push the Candle-Curse lore from his mind. He fought for rational thoughts, to think of a worthwhile wish, but superstition conjured visions of demons and fire.
Tucker slapped Dustin on the neck. “Do it!”
Pushing his fears aside long enough, Dustin chose a wish. I wish I could live in peace.
Then, he opened his eyes and took a deep breath.
Ten. It’s only ten candles. I’ll go from left to right at a steady pace, he thought.
Hands gripping the table, Dustin leaned in and blew hard.
The flames writhed and fluttered until succumbing to the force of his breath sweeping across the field of candles, leaving smoking, lifeless towers in his wake.
Almost there, he thought. Just one more.
With the last candle sputtering under Dustin’s exhalation, Tucker jumped up and shouldered him off the chair. The impact with the floor stole what little oxygen he had left.
All eyes were fixated on the candle that refused to die. It burned bright, flame straightening as if proud of its resilience.
The brothers yelled and laughed, jumping around the room like crazed chimpanzees.
“Curse!” Barney shouted, starting a chant. “Curse, curse.”
Tucker joined him. “Curse, curse, curse.”
Mr. and Mrs. Thompson made a meek attempt at stifling their laughter.
Dustin regained his breath and climbed to his knees.
“No – I can’t be cursed!” He said. “You pushed me!”
“One’s still lit… you lose.” Tucker pointed at the candles.
“That’s not fair!” Dustin yelled. His eyes blurred behind a swell of tears. He balled his hands into fists and started swinging, landing cross-blows to Tucker’s chin and left eye before Barney decked him.
Dustin lay sprawled on the floor; seething and bleeding.
“That’s enough.” Mr. Thompson stood up fast, knocking his chair backward. “Get out of my sight,” he ordered and pulled Dustin by his shirt toward the basement door.
“But, I didn’t get any cake.” Dustin pleaded, the fight sucked out of him.
“You’re done. Go to bed, now.”
Tears spilled down his face. “Can I please still spend the night in my show bedroom?”
“Not anymore. Get your ass in the basement before I throw you down the steps.” Mr. Thompson shoved him at the open doorway.
Sniffling back tears as he went, Dustin didn’t look at the brothers. He knew they were smiling and seeing that would make his punishment all the more difficult to bear.
Tucker yelled after him. “You’re mine tomorrow Dusty. Payback’s coming.”
Dustin shambled down the rickety steps to the dirt floor below. Door locks clicked home as he descended. His limbs felt as heavy as his deprived heart.
He padded over to his unframed mattress, flopped down, and cried.
Tears trailed across his arm and dripped to the ground in little muddy splashes. He wept for hours. Muffled sounds of merriment sifted down from above like dust between the floorboards. Eventually, exhaustion took over and he slept.
Dustin dreamt of fire.
A hot and hungry blaze tore through the house. He was upstairs at the table, watching. He stood motionless, petrified by the sight of demons leaping into his world through the flames. His spine froze and he shivered despite the rising heat around him.
The demons had massive, backward-arching horns and slotted yellow eyes. They danced around the house leaving charred hoof prints along the carpets, furniture, and walls. They ripped the place apart, scorching everything in their path. Nothing was left untouched by their long reptilian fingers as they pranced through the rooms in morbid glee.
Dustin heard cries and pleading from down the hall. The creatures’ hooves clunked loudly as they leapt around, tormenting the family. A man’s voice yelled out unintelligible things, his voice high and frantic from agony. Then, the smell hit Dustin like summer grilling on an August breeze—the father was burning. His foster brothers were screaming and their mother wept. In reply, the demons only snorted and continued their twisted game.
The woman’s unanswered pleas turned to shouts of rage. Dustin heard a flurry of activity and the hysterics stopped abruptly.
Dustin’s pounding heart pulsed in his throat. He stood bolted to the spot, waiting for something to change, something to make sense. Then, a soft voice exhaled the words peace now against his ear. He whirled in both mind and body.
He found himself in bed, slick with sweat. The musty smell of the dirt basement wafted over him. Dense curtains of darkness hung close. He must have had a nightmare—that horrible dream of fire and demons, of violence and death. He could still sense an echo of the screams in his waking mind. Drawing in a long breath, he sighed. He nearly smiled. It was strange how cold he felt now after the imaginary flames were gone.
Something landed in the dirt. Dustin jerked his head toward the sound and peered into the inky shadows. Too dark, he couldn’t see more than a few inches beyond his mattress.
He strained and squinted. Something moved. It was coming closer.
His body tingled in anticipation. Fear oozed from his pores as his cold sweat returned.
Dustin watched it emerge from the gloom, but wished he hadn’t.
A large figure strode toward his bed. It was similar to the demons of his dream, but this one was bigger. Its legs began as cloven hoofs, stretching and bending upward, changing from oily fur to wet scales. Its torso bulged with muscle and the tumorous anatomy of an unknown creature. Slotted goat eyes glowed yellow from a face riddled with nodes of protruding cartilage. The horns terrified him—long, backward-curving growths, like reverse tusks with deep ridges.
Dustin lost control of his bladder but couldn’t look away.
Bedside, the creature leaned down and smiled in an unnatural display of needled teeth. It reached out a hand, stopping the upturned fist inches from Dustin’s face. Slowly unraveling its fingers, the demon revealed a single candle, standing straight in the palm of its hand.
The grinning creature cocked its head and, with a snap of its fingers, brought the candle to life. “You missed one, Dusty,” it said in a voice dank and rich like crude oil. Then, the demon blew out the flame and cast them in total darkness.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
I can hear them scratching – almost ticking, always clicking, as they move around inside my head. It’s maddening. Their tiny feet always touching, testing, feeling their way about. Each hair-coated limb sliding between the soft tissue and bone – scuttling through the crevasse in between. Feeding off the fluid…growing.
Sometimes, when I’m looking in the mirror, in the worst moments, the moments where I have to hold onto the basin to support myself and can barely catch a full breath, I swear I see a shadow scuttle behind my eye. The quick darting of a grotesque form moving swiftly past before I can focus on it. My own visage in the mirror is a horror in itself; long hair a greasy tangled mess, cheeks sunken and hollow, skin a sickly yellow hue from their rancid poison. Sinking to the floor, scratching at my face to be rid of them, I gouge my eye sockets with filthy, ragged nails. Will they find their way through the opening if I offer one? Covered in the blood oozing from destroyed tissue around my eyes, forehead slashed bare, with flesh caked beneath my fingernails, I crawl on hands and knees to the bed where I cower beneath the covers seeking refuge, hoping to hide. But there is no refuge, nowhere to hide; they are always with me – inside me, there is no escape from what is inside…
I would have thought knowing they were inside me would be the worst part, but it’s not – the mind adapts to such things; it’s feeling their movements, their scurrying back and forth beneath my skin that is the most repulsive part. I don’t know how they were able to gestate inside me; they seem maddened at not being able to get out. Their constant frenzy keeps me up at night – I’m getting no sleep; it keeps me sick throughout the day – nourishment something I’ve not known in weeks; a prisoner in my own home – I’m terrified to go into the light, I look the part of a monster – a filth ridden hag.
I wonder: will they roast in the sunlight if I let myself burn in its glorious blaze? The sun beating down upon me, turning my skin the blistering red of cracked paint on canvas. Perhaps I should wander to the basement and embrace the furnace with its searing hot metal, cooking myself like meat thrown upon a hot skillet. Or simply douse myself with open flame; does it matter at this point? Tempted to try such things, my mind wanders to the possibilities: what if they panic from the heat and start to run, cascading in a black surging mass from my ears and shrieking maw? Nowhere for me to go, no way to escape them – more still coming, an endless flow continuing their frantic evacuation. What if they are no longer only in me, but all over me? The thought alone drives me beyond the limits of this tenuous sanity I now grasp.
God, the cacophony of their humped bodies sliding between the soft tissue of my brain and the hardness of my skull is deafening. I have to find a way to get them out! Nails gouge once more; I rip chunks of skin from my body sending fresh streams of puss and blood down my face, past my eyes – my mind shuts down and I feel no more.
Oh God, I think I threw one up during the night. It’s lying on my pillow, but it doesn’t look like I expected it would. It’s far too elongated, thin and withered as am I, almost a milky grey color. Covered in mucus, mine or its own, I cannot say.
It twitched! I know I saw it twitch, I didn’t imagine it. Frozen in fear, I stare wide eyed at the collapsed carcass of the thing on my pillow, hoping it was my imagination. It twitches again; not my imagination.
I leap up, tangled in my own covers, screaming wildly. It still lies there making a feeble attempt to move; I think it’s dying. There is a sloshing in my head – I moved too fast, screamed too loud, they are scuttling insanely about inside my skull. I retch, and retch again. Vomiting up more, I realize they are no longer only in my head but have found a way to travel into my throat! The thought makes me retch yet again. They are agitated by my convulsions; I can feel their vibrating urgency to quell their host. Oh God, please get them out of me!
The pounding in my head is beyond bearable, the heaving of my starved body uncontrollable; afraid to breath yet terrified I won’t, panic begins to set in as my body spasms of its own volition.
They are larger now, no longer simply sliding through the minute fissures of my skull. I feel a piercing pain with each stab of their clawed legs as they dig in and drag themselves forward. I can barely inhale for the number of them clinging to the walls of my throat. Coughing blood and eight legged bodies, I feel them holding on with their barbed legs so as not to be ejected with each contraction.
Swallow or vomit my only choices, I grab a bottle of water from my nightstand and begin to gulp the warm water. I can feel it sluicing over their swollen bodies like lesions grown from my esophagus, not just the intruders that they are. I vomit more, pulling one or two free that refuse to be expelled. The others grasp tighter, puncturing the delicate pink tissue of my already mutilated gullet. These, the ones spewed onto the bed, seem different, more frantic as they dance about. Their color more dense, darker – their bodies harder in form. Clearly blind, they dart in sporadic circles, slowly growing more sluggish, more translucent; collapsing like the first one I saw.
It seems they die quickly, they don’t survive long outside my body.
Scratching my ear, I feel something long and thin move away from my finger. Something covered in fine wisps of hair, something that slithers backward and draws into itself, much the way I have snatched my own hand away, clutching it with its blood covered finger to my chest.
Crawling again to the bathroom and scaling the sink, I open a drawer and reach for my scissors intending to cut away a chunk of hair to more easily see inside my ear. As I grab a handful of hair, I realize that the clump I’m clutching is slowly pulling away from my scalp with a slurping sucking noise. Tendrils of a thick sticky substance adhere to the skin for a brief moment before slopping to the side of my face. The exposed tissue is raw, puss covered and stings – small globules of fatty tissue clinging in place.
With a terrified grimace, I turn my head ever so slightly to allow the light to shine on my ear. There! Just like the shadow scuttling behind my eye, something quickly moves further into the darkened recesses of my ear canal. Barely able to stand on quivering legs, weak from hunger and brought to the brink of insanity by this infestation, I pull my long tweezers out of the drawer – the medical ones, and with a shaking and still bleeding hand, I begin to reach into my ear hoping to extract what is hiding there.
A sharp nip warns me to go no further; I drop the tweezers and my other hand slips off the slickened sink as I crash to the tile floor. The coolness of the stone a brief reprieve from the molten pain I feel in my head and throat. The smack upon my skull barely noticed above the crunch of crushed bodies.
I wake in a sticky patch of drying blood on the bathroom floor. Disoriented at first, I wonder how I got here, but the first subtle movement reminds me as they begin to rummage through my decimated body. Glancing downward, I can see the shape of one as it moves under my skin making its way across my abdomen and down my thigh. They’re crawling throughout my entire body now. They seem to be making their way to the cooler surfaces that are in contact with the tile floor I lay upon.
They relish the cool feel of the stone as much as I do. The clutter of them must have moved while I was unconscious. There is a pregnant hum to the silence, almost an anticipation of retribution should I try to move yet again.
The more aware I become, the more I come to realize that they are not all seeking to be dormant – not all moving toward the cool floor. The smaller ones still crawl through me, using their clawed legs to move in and around my organs. My body spasms from the pain, and I feel the frenzy of awakening. They nip in vague warning for me not to move, poke at my tender innards with their pincers and jab with hardened claws.
Exhausted from not eating, from the loss of blood, and the horror of knowing my body is their only source of food, I reach out towards the edge of the bathtub. As my hand closes around it, I feel their carcasses crunching between skin, tendon and bone. They bite and scrabble frantically to escape; I can’t help but feel a smug bit of satisfaction at this. Others awaken and join the fray, biting and stabbing with abandon at their host; my body. But I refuse to be coerced, I have found strength in their terror. I will drag myself to the bathtub – its cool surround offering a coffin of reprieve.
I manage to pull my torso up and over the edge. God do they hate this. The moment my abdomen is bent in two, head dangling in the tub, I begin to spew blood and small black bodies. Fatigued from my efforts and unable to go any further, I lay bent over the edge and watch as their slickened bodies scurry about, unable to find purchase on the smooth surface. Too drained to do more, I collapse in a heap half in, half out of my enamel coated salvation as the malformed creatures desperately crawl up my limp hair, trying to enter through ears and mouth that others are still using as a route of mass exodus from my traitorous body.
Pressure, there is so much pressure building behind my eyes. My head feels like it’s going to burst. So many of them have returned to my skull – I feel them packed in there like the woolen stuffing of a doll. For some reason this thought makes me laugh. Stuffed like a doll I am with crawling monsters gnawing away at my insides. More laughter, hysterical this time. I hear it as if from a distance, but know it’s emanating from my own cracked and swollen lips, my own cracked and damaged mind. The laughter gives me energy, makes them crazy. I can feel their panicked agitation escalate with the flow of what little blood is left in me.
Heaving the rest of my body into the tub, my swollen and infested carcass is wracked with uncontrollable convulsions. A stream of small creatures emerge with the spittle that I cough up. They scurry for the darkness of the drain. Lifting one foot, I manage to flip the hot water tap. Immediately they begin to scale my body and climb my flesh to escape the torrid flow.
Twisting, contorting and clawing my way around, I manage to turn my body so that my head is closer to the near boiling stream. It is excruciating; gloriously agonizing. I rip handfuls of my own hair from my head, and stuff them into the drain effectively clogging it to trap the scalding water in the basin with me – with them!
Delirious as I am, a small voice in the back of my mind whispers that I may be imagining all of this, but as my flesh peels back from bone and sinew, and the smell of steaming meat assaults my nostrils, I can’t help but feel that I have finally won. They will die along with me in agony and pain. My final act – to slide shut the glass doors, trapping them in the swiftly filling watery grave I’ve chosen for us all.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.