Archive | October 2014

Black Widow

The street is alive with festivities but my house is sombre and silent. The neighbourhood knows I am a widow in mourning, that I want to be left in peace, but that doesn’t prevent those roaming little brats from ringing my bell.

“Trick or Treat!” they shout, over and over again until I finally come to the door. In my black hooded cloak I look the part. No harm in playing along. I let out a deep evil laugh, throw handfuls of candy at them then slam the door as they plunge into a frenzy. I hope that is the last of them; it is close to midnight and I have work to do. The veil is thin.

I almost nodded off as I sat through your funeral; the monotonous voice of the priest was like a soothing lullaby. It is typical that you choose to be buried in an obscure, old cemetery on top of a hill. I’m sure you were delighted that we had to trek uphill through wet grass, as if we were on a pilgrimage to your holy grave. However, there were more important things on my mind than your egocentricities. My gaze was lowered but not with false humility. I was watching the lake. At the bottom of the hillside, the dark body of water lay silent. Surrounded by thick, long grass and shrouded in early morning mist, it was a festering pit of smoky gloom. I wrung my fingers eagerly as my plan fell into place. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty but some dirty work is below me; I would need allies.

I let you lie in peace for a while before I returned. Enough time for the worms to have feasted sufficiently, reducing you to rotting scraps. In the cold night, I stalked the bank of the lake, summoning the Fae. What kind of fairies frequent cemeteries? The ugliest kind, both in nature and appearance. They pretended they couldn’t hear me as they played in the fog. They provoked me with their foolish fire, bright sparks of blue and orange fizzed on the water’s surface. Their deceptive lights have lured many unsuspecting souls to misfortune. They are stubborn, petulant things but I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and reluctantly they came forth. Their deformed little faces emerged from the shadows, wicked eyes glinting like polished emeralds at the promise of a feast.

I paced impatiently as they shovelled dirt with sharp little claws, grunting as they worked frantically. They squealed and scattered as I hacked open the coffin with an axe, then flocked around eagerly to see your corpse. Your suit remained immaculate, the blue satin tie and handkerchief straight and neat. You were still a little bloated, chest puffed, as indignant in death as your were in life.

I commanded the Fae to deliver me your head, which they did with glee. It made a pleasant sound as it was torn from your shoulders like the peeling of thick bark from an old tree. I held your head gently in my hands surprised by the lightness of it. Your face had sunken upon itself, black leathery flesh clinging to an empty cavity, your brains long dissolved into a festering mush. The remaining flesh was streaked with the meandering tracks of larvae; deep within the empty eye sockets tiny writhing creatures slumbered, breeding.

I wrapped your head in my cloak and left, not looking back as the orgy erupted. As promised, the Fae were free to do with your remains as they wished. Descending the hill, I noticed they were dragging you back with them, limb by limb, down into the murky depths of the lake.

Samhain. Day of the Dead. All Hallows Eve. All Souls Day. It matters not. The old ways are dead; they have merged and morphed into meaningless pageantry. People parade happily in elaborate costumes, a parody of darker times. They have not seen what I have seen. They have not survived the curse of incurable disease or the plague of devils in robes, travelling from village to village, burning, burning. They have not seen Nature stretching her jaws, unleashing her motley minions to charm and confound. Once the Fae, Pixies and Elves occupied their rightful place in the scheme of things; now they have faded from our eyes and I can hear their ghostly wails. The sacred thread of truth, carried through generations, is strained and weak but it cannot be distinguished completely. The old ways are dead. New ways will rise.

I can hear the faint rumble of music and laughter outside as I kneel within the circle. I recall the hush of the ancient forest, the collective intake of all breath, a pregnant pause. I long for an eternal night, deep, dark and silent. The pact is black. The veil is thin. I begin to draw the sigil; my own innermost blood is the medium. The blood drips and sprinkles and runs lines down the walls, glistening in dim candlelight.

Your head is where I have always wanted it, on my altar. I am not ready to let you go. An acidic hate burns within me; it spurs me on and fuels my ritual. An ancient tongue writhes in my throat and spits in a long lost language. I am shaking as the voice rises and terrified as I watch. Your dead skin changes colour, from rotting tones of black and green to fresh shades of pink. Slowly your face begins to grow plump, cheeks and chin fashioned from living clay. Glutinous grey balls form in your eye sockets, streaks of slime seep from the corners like tears of joy at your rebirth. A black sphere darkens in the centre, your iris. A thin translucent film of skin collects around the milky globes, forming eyelids. Your fresh eyes stare at me with the wild madness of a newborn.

I’m not sure if it is complete but then your eyes blink. They roll side to side like the mechanical eyes of a toy. I let out a small gasp of surprise. They say the eyes are the mirror to the soul and I have claimed yours. I have snatched it out of the ether and brought it home.

Your jaw falls open, the joint grinding loose. A black sludge is coagulating in your mouth, creating your tongue. Perhaps I will grant you a voice but for now, the thick muffled grunts that emerge from the hollow will suffice. Such a peculiar expression on your new face, much like the stiff grimace of carved pumpkins that decorate windowsills this time of year. You will be my lantern, glowing throughout the night, shadows cast by the play of light.

~ Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2014 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved

Kept Secrets

Darkness devoured every ounce of light.

Opening her eyes, Beth’s mind spun, groping for traction as to where she was and how she’d gotten there. The air, musty and thick, made breathing difficult and she wheezed with each panting breath. Her hands and feet were bound, her sense of balance distorted.

She screamed, but the words caught in her throat, trapped behind a wad of fabric shoved into her mouth. Beth scanned the void for a hint of anything that might bring details to her surroundings.

Somewhere in the distance, a door creaked open, ushering in a sliver of light, only to slam shut seconds later. Her chest heaved and rivulets of tears streamed down her cheeks when a familiar sound came to her. The clacking of boot heels on wooden floors echoed like cannons as they made their way closer.

Beth’s pulse echoed in her ears. An orange light flickered in the inky blackness and a figure approached from the other end of the space. Shadows morphed on the walls and ceiling as the naked flame danced its way closer.

She tried to push herself backwards but couldn’t; her body was useless. An ominous silhouette strode closer and the girl recognized Gloria’s sharp features – her stepmother’s features. Her mind’s eye flashed a scene of Gloria bringing her a glass of wine at the dinner party; her last memory before waking up in the void.

Beth cowered as her father’s wife leaned closer and spoke in a raspy, malevolent tone. “You’ll not speak of my secret in life nor death. Of this, I’m sure.”

Gloria rested the candle on the ground and Beth shuddered as the old witch’s bony hands came into view. In one hand, a large needle with wire tailing from the eyelet; in the other, a small vial of liquid gleaned in the glowing candlelight.

Beth strained against her bindings, but she was too weak to break free. Gloria removed the cloth from Beth’s mouth and grabbed her chin before tilting her head back, forcing the potion down her throat.

Beth’s head swum in confusion as the concoction took effect and she slipped in and out of consciousness.

Intermittent flashes of reality only offered hints as to Gloria’s purpose; the biting pain as her stepmother forced the wire through Beth’s lips made those intentions all too clear.

Darkness devoured every ounce of light.

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2014 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved

Crunch Time

Jeff Montgomery wanted to go home.

His temples throbbed like a bitch, and the spreadsheets beneath his face shimmered like a watery mess. God, he hated tax time. Jeff glanced at his watch. Ten o’clock. Another half-hour, that was it. Work would still be here come dawn.

Removing his glasses, he gave his temples and brow an invigorating rub, eventually reining in his frustration with a deep breath and a sip of cool water. Jeff nearly jumped from his skin when a door slammed from across the hall.

It sounded like a cannon shot – so ferocious the pens inside the mug atop his desk rattled. “Dammit,” he hissed, rolling backward in his chair. His co-workers mentioned something like this one day over lunch. The infamous law office of Matheson and Keene. Whispered speculation persisted about the firm, for their doors were always locked and clientele were never seen; oft-hushed rumors that the partners didn’t even exist. “You actually think the firm is a front for something else?” Jeff remembered asking, face scrupulously wrinkled; he wasn’t sure if the uneasy silence that met him was because he was the new guy or for something else.

He rolled to the desk, pushed his glasses back along his nose and reached for his water. Another bang now, harder than the last. Water breached the rim of the cup, splashing across his sleeve. “Sonofabitch!” Jeff quickly dabbed at the drops atop his paperwork. A different sound filtered to his ears, very faint; barely perceptible. He held his breath, listening intently – soft knocks against the ceiling. Only the heat kicking through the HVAC he surmised, realizing the culmination of nearly fifteen hours of numbers and spreadsheets had finally worked his nerves.

There were other stories, secondhand tales Harold Rivers derived from the cleaning crew. Dark shadows shifting along walls. A palpable heaviness to the air. Sudden door slams and unseen, booted feet pacing nowhere. It all sounded like some cheesy script from a horror movie, but now he sat reminding himself it was only hearsay. A child might hide under the covers at the telling of such yarns, but he was a grown man. Jeff took pen in hand, refocused on his work. Twenty more minutes, he conceded. Twenty more minutes and I’m home.

But the blur of numbers caused his mind to race. What was it that Harold said again? The cleaning crew flat out refused to service the fourth floor at night; in fact, their contract stated that they’d only clean the fourth floor during the day. Jeff gnawed his pen cap. Come to think of it, the cleaning crew always seemed to be finishing the bathrooms when he arrived in the morning. Harold mentioned something else, too. No employee ever worked late on the fourth floor. Jeff put his pen down and slowly turned around.

He was alone in the office. The tax deadline loomed, and yet not a single soul put in extra hours; no one stayed past dusk.

Only him.

A door slammed for a third time; Jeff’s teeth rattled inside his head. He sprang to his feet, grabbing his suit jacket and briefcase, cursing Harold and his goddamn ghost stories as he hurried out the door. Just great; he might as well pull the sheets over his own head once he got home.

He cursed Harold again and everyone else in the office for good measure; how could he have fallen for such shit? He’d never experienced the heebie-jeebies before, and it sure as hell wouldn’t happen now. Jeff stood clutching the doorknob in the near dark of the hall, quickly rationalizing the situation. The knocks from the ceiling were caused by heat blowing through the vents, but the door slams… cleaning crew doesn’t work the fourth floor my ass, they’re obviously up here doing something. It suddenly clicked. Not only were they here, but they were playing practical jokes just to keep those stories alive. Sonofabitches. And the moving shadows could be explained by the eyes adjusting from the harsh incandescent radiance of an office to the admittedly poorly illuminated hall. Jeff released the doorknob, squared his shoulders. He felt better already. Not only would he call out Harold on his absurdity, but he’d make him pick up the tab next time they ate Kung Po chicken, too.

Jeff thought he heard the faint scuff of feet dragging across carpet and spun around. Only the door to the law offices of Matheson and Keene loomed behind him; it seemed to emanate its own soft glow, distinguishing itself from the wall. Yet no light radiated from beneath. He warily approached the door.

It was cool to the touch, as if chilled by the night air. Jeff leaned into it, but the door didn’t budge. Then a gasp came as though someone had been standing behind the door the entire while. He turned on his heel and fled like a startled bird. This time he didn’t give a shit. Fuck tax time. He’d take his coworker’s cue; this would be the last he’d stay late at the office.

He stumbled down the hall – Christ, it’s so damn murky – using the glowing exit sign at the end as his guide. He stopped in front of the elevator, stabbing the down button with his thumb. “I want you to know I’ll be contacting the landlord in the morning. Have your fun hiding now because I’ll be having my fun tomorrow,” he addressed the invisible cleaning crew as firmly as he could, but the sound of his voice rang hollow in the hall. “Friggin’ floors are never mopped right, anyway!” He stabbed at the down button again.

A bell dinged weakly as the elevator door slid open. Light escaped, offering relief from the cloying gloom. Jeff stepped inside, placing his briefcase at his feet as he tapped another button for the first floor. Immediately, he felt better… and more than a bit foolish. He chided himself for acting like a scared child; had his father still been alive he’d have called Jeff a baby. The very thought made him cringe. Just the pressures of working at a new firm, trying to make a favorable impression, he tried to convince himself. Jeff leaned against the polished stainless steel wrapping the interior of the elevator. He eyed his distorted reflection and then loosened his tie as the doors slid shut, thinking of a quick snack at home, and his pillow.

The doors shuddered. Four spindly, pale fingers wiggled between them, pushing and squirming their way through, forefinger curling like a lead scout before the doors jerked open. A bowed man entered the elevator, head hung low as to conceal any features. He wore an impeccable suit as shadowy as the hall and his hair – compactly slicked beyond his ears and glistening like morning dew, nearly touching his slumped shoulders. Somehow, the curvature of his form made his appearance all the more daunting. Like a tendril of smoke, he eased into the corner across from Jeff. “Done burning the midnight oil?” the man inquired, voice rich in cadence.

“Umm, yes.” Jeff stood frozen. How the man had slipped so stealthily down the hall, Jeff hadn’t a clue but here he stood, spine curled and head stooped like some demented butler awaiting his next command.

The man clasped his hands, entwining his snake-like fingers in mesmerizing consideration. “Diligence. There is scarce amount left in this world. A sad thing.”

Jeff said nothing. But the man hardly seemed to notice. “It used to be commonplace for an individual to work dusk till dawn, but no more. There are other priorities, or should I say, other distractions, to misplace one from their tasks.” He shifted his head slightly, face still cast in obscurity. “Forgive my absent-mindedness. It is late, and here I stand rambling on. I am sure you long for home.” A bony finger swept across the elevator panel. “The first floor, yes?”

“Yes, thank you,” Jeff answered, hoping his relief remained hidden. As the doors hissed shut, he leaned toward his briefcase and noticed the man’s shoes. Quite unlike his faultless suit, angry scuffs marred their surface; dirt caked their soles. What an odd thing, Jeff thought, like wearing a tuxedo with a cheap pair of Converse. He lifted his briefcase, hesitant of what to say next. Jeff finally offered a frail chuckle. “Well, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t work late all the time. You do what you must during tax time.”

“Aah, you must work for them,” the man said tersely. Jeff instantly made the connection when the elevator halted with a horrible lurch. He stumbled from the jolt, throwing an arm against the wall for support. “Tsk, tsk,” the man scolded as he tapped a long finger against the elevator panel. “This old box tends to stick a bit between the third and second floor. No worries, my friend. It will free itself in a matter of minutes. I’ve unfortunately experienced this inconvenience numerous times. Still, it is maddening. I’ve phoned the landlord plenty, but as you can see, little has been done. The recurring answer is that the maintenance crew has been on it and found nothing wrong. But they’ve addressed the problem only during the day, when the annoyance hardly occurs. No one is willing to come after hours, it seems.” The man tilted his head at last, revealing slits for eyes, as if the admittance of further light would sear them for eternity. Sallow flesh hung from his bony cheekbones. He offered Jeff his hand. “Allow me to use this untimely interruption to introduce myself. Mr. Keene… and you, sir?”

“Jeff Montgomery, a pleasure to meet you,” he said, barely suppressing a smile. That stupid shit Harold. Jeff would make sure he’d be eating free Kung Po chicken for a week. “With all due respect, I’m quite relieved I’ve met you.” Mr. Keene’s uncommonly silky fingers enveloped his hand; the longer they shook, the icier they became.

“Relieved? Do tell why, Mr. Montgomery.”

“I’ve heard a lot of… things.”

Mr. Keene’s brow furrowed; it appeared the skin might slide from his skull. “Things?”

“Rumors.”

“Go on.”

The stainless steel panel behind Mr. Keene suddenly arrested Jeff’s attention, but he quickly averted his gaze as the bowed man squeezed tight upon his hand. Impossible… only a trick of the light; only fatigue, plaguing him once more. “Understand, I’ve just been recently hired, but popular word is that neither you nor your partner even exists.”

“Such horrible rumors. And what do you think now, Mr. Montgomery?”

He glanced again over Mr. Keene’s shoulder, his stomach dropping at the vision captured within the stainless steel. “I think crunch time has gotten to me.”

Mr. Keene relinquished his grip. A smile creased his lips, now razor slashes across his face. “I would like you to join our firm, Mr. Montgomery. Money is of no consequence; name your price and it is yours. In return, I name only mine.”

***

Nerves frayed beyond repair, Harold shuddered as his chair popped under his weight.

Once the office had emptied at five, he’d been in and out of the men’s room four times, his hysteria pissing out in trickles. The sun hadn’t dipped pass the horizon yet and still his heart beat wildly. He slapped at the sweat dotting his brow; there wasn’t much more he could take.

He blamed his shitty luck – he did come up with the shortest straw drawn in the office, after all. But mostly Harold blamed Jeff Montgomery. Barely three weeks into the job and already he became a no-show. No call, no note, no nothing. Some in the office hadn’t batted a eyelash; Jeff was considered something of a flake. Harold knew the truth however, even if no one dared to admit it. Jeff Montgomery’s last day was the first night he worked late on the fourth floor. Case closed.

That was nearly a week ago. Now Harold sat behind his desk, spreadsheets a sweat-blotted clutter, the sun agonizingly melting into the sky. His mind raced. Sure, the tax deadline loomed and the work needed to be done, but the drawing of the straws had been a ridiculous idea. Maybe it had been the only diplomatic way to choose someone, but who in their right mind would actually be expected to work into the night. No one, that’s who. The clock struck five and the office scattered, frenzied little mice chattering out the door. Not a single person gave Harold a second look. Wait, that wasn’t entirely true. Heather Taylor did. But her eyes were so mournful Harold wished she never had.

A door slammed from down the hall, and Harold nearly crapped his pants.

He catapulted from his chair, papers a whirlwind into the air. Although he accomplished absolutely nothing, he didn’t care. Harold wanted out of the office, off the fourth floor. He wanted home.

The walls erupted with fury, as if a dozen angry fists raged against them in unison. Harold backpedaled, a whimper on his lips as he crashed into the cubicle behind him. He scrambled on the floor like a crab, finally pushing to his feet. Harold dashed from the office.

He entered a pitch-black abyss. The dark disoriented him, and quickly he panicked. He groped blindly for purchase. It seemed a step in either direction and he’d plummet over the side of a depth-less ravine.

The glowing exit sign at the end of the hall served as Harold’s only beacon; snapping his malaise, he ran on jellied legs until finally skidding to a halt before the elevator. He slammed the down button, teeth grinding furiously. Metal pulleys echoed through the elevator shaft; at last, its doors parted. Harold fell into its sweet light.

The uneasy laughing he heard was his own. When the morning came, he had quite the tale to share and only hoped no one would think he embellished it. He didn’t think so. They knew the stories; the drawing of the straws proved their conviction in them. Harold tapped the button for the first floor and leaned against the elevator wall.

A dirt smudged briefcase rested in the opposite corner.

Pale fingers shoved through the elevator doors, and Harold nearly collapsed to his knees. None other than Jeff Montgomery slowly emerged.

“Did I startle you?”

“Yeah, you fucking startled me!” The first thing Harold noticed was the hair; Montgomery never kept it slicked back like that.

“I didn’t mean to. I realized I’d forgotten my briefcase. I’ve been so hectic as of late, Harold. I think I’d forget to eat if I didn’t have food in front of me.”

The second thing Harold noticed was how gaunt Montgomery’s face had become. His cheekbones practically ripped through his flesh and his eyes were slits, empty and unblinking. “I want to apologize to you, Harold, for not saying goodbye. There was no good time to catch you, until now.”

“What the hell are you doing here, Jeff? You just up and went. Quit. Not great resume fodder.”

The elevator began its descent. “I was offered a position at Matheson and Keene, and I took it.” Harold’s jaw nearly touched the floor. “They offered me everything and anything I could desire, Harold. Money. Power. Life. There was one catch, though. I had to pay their price. And now I pass that on to others.”

The third thing Harold noticed, no matter how hard he tried to pry his horrified gaze away, was that Jeff Montgomery cast no reflection in the polished stainless steel panel behind him.

“You shouldn’t feel a thing, Harold,” Jeff said through a wide and gleaming mouth as the elevator came to a jarring halt.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2010, 2014 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

Iniquity’s Marathon

Separate, the chasm widens
where you were
you are not now
and there is none left to save you
your guts are pierced
like a bloated sow

*

Once you walked
on wild flower fields
pink and reds
beckoned to your touch
beauty climbed upon a vine then
the world was kind
and often just

*

Now your fingers
reek of sulfur
your face removed
in acid wash
your foul lips
drip lies deceitful
wicked words are stolen, lost

*

Once you walked
on wild flower fields
pink and reds
beckoned to your touch
beauty climbed upon a vine then
the world was kind
and often just

*

Mischief is now your maker
poison your new best friend
the black adder is the taker
of lust you need not pretend
crush her eggs beneath your heel
the viper rises from its nest
each work day
violence is breeding
this is evil’s ample test

*

Once you walked
on wild flower fields
pink and reds
beckoned to your touch
beauty climbed upon a vine then
the world was kind
and often just

*

Big feet outpacing, running
drunken on destruction’s feast
sanguine drips from carnage found here
ample payment for the beast
straight ways now are crooked
it now parallels the mind
what you find
where they’ve been digging
you’d best hold back
and take some time

*

Once you walked
on wild flower fields
pink and reds
beckoned to your touch
beauty climbed upon a vine then
the world was kind
and often just

*

Tread we over light so boldly
dried the skulls
that once knew peace
behold the dark
he holds a headless
we all join in a corporate screech
groping along the wall so blindly
those who can no longer see
what we joined with half our hearts then
this is Hell’s new jubilee

*

Once we walked
on wild flower fields
pink and reds
beckoned to our touch
beauty climbed upon a vine then
the world was kind
and often just

~ Leslie Moon

© Copyright 2014 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved

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