Joseph A. Pinto
I found a reason to walk tween the folds of winter’s shawl, so hand in hand go we along Perdition’s Road. Shall we burn, we burn as one; shall we suffer, then know love cores the depths of our wounds. Lace your trembling fingers round my neck and your burdens I shall carry. I’ve no need to burn this lantern’s oils for our demons come well-known. Let them swirl in the dark, guttering til gone. Death is tenant of our path, yet tonight she’ll know no coin. My life I mortgage for yours; take flight now against my sky.
Torn and bloodied, she huddles against the lantern’s pedestal fighting for a life already lost. Broken in spirit, broken in heart, she watches as they circle, awaiting night’s fall. Not taken on the last, she knows this eve she’ll not be so lucky. Day is already beginning to dim; the heavens darken. Having sought solace in the flicker of a dying flame, the whispers in her mind reassure no salvation will be granted. Darker than the deepening hue of the foreboding sky, they watch. The lantern struggles to glow, then gutters out. Her hope vanquished, they descend. The feast begins.
It had gone midnight when I crossed the park but he was quite visible by the street lamp. Stick limbs. Wild hair. The sickly-sweet scent of honey. He was filthy and beautiful.
Upturned, his pale face bathed in the orange glow. I saw his tight lips, his dusty skin. His eyes were like two orbs of polished stone. I saw myself in them a thousand times over, growing larger as I approached.
He smiled as I swarmed in his eyes, this Monarch-Man, my Emperor. I smiled back. Together we danced around the street lamp, and the night whispered with wing-beats.
Welcome to New Orleans
James glanced at the last gas lantern as they followed the old Haitian woman. Its light seemed to warn of coming darkness, fluttering and pointing away from the famed priestess. They had asked her for a taste of local voodoo, thinking it was bullshit until the old woman turned in the darkness of an alley and blew powder into their faces.
“Coupe poudre,” she whispered with a grin.
He pawed at his face until his legs buckled. Unable to move, James gazed with unblinking eyes as the voodoo priestess stooped close to his face.
“Welcome to New Orleans, my pet.”
Color Me Gray
It’s another gray winter evening, bereft of color, even the moonlight not distinct. And the light at the end of the old rock wall? Colorless. The sky blind to its presence.
The leaf-less trees pass his word through their twitching branches. He is pissed. Revenge is on his mind. Those who would destroy what he created must pay the price.
A giant pallet, held between his enormous hands, continues to draw all colors other than gray to it.
Armageddon will be much easier now. The lack of color already depresses them.
Great moans come from everywhere as the beasts attack.
“It’s the one right there”
“Where? I can barely see.”
“The one with the old gas lamp.”
The crowbar made quick work of the rusty mausoleum door. Bitter fall wind knifed through the opening.
“Help me with this.”
They chipped away at the cement covering, dumping the coffin on the floor.
“Shhh, you’ll wake the dead!”
They both tittered.
The coffin lid opened with an eerie squeal. The corpse looked like jerky, smelled rancid.
“Don’t mind if I do.”
He lowered his open maw on the corpse’s face.
Eaters of the Dead Society was not for the squeamish.
This city stands tall, desolate, and lifeless like the trees against the sunless sky. More empty concrete; more of the same. Nothing. Perched atop the corner on a forgotten wall, a lamp. Encased and protected by a small cage. The glass bulb intact, untouched by history. I imagine it glowing; a beacon of hope in dark and despair. Wait! What was that? Did it just… my God, it did! The filament lit up! I swear it flickered. Do it again! The bulb had blinked once… teasing me. Flicker again! Please do it again! Damn it, I need this. God, please…
Once a beacon of hope, the lanterns go unlit now. In a new world, where few things are guaranteed and only death is certain, he scours what remains of the charred earth for the precious few that have somehow survived the scorching heat, famine, and disease that has spread across the globe. They think they’re surviving, fools every one of them, but he’ll track them down; the ultimate hunter. When the demon and his ebony stallion finds them, they’ll wish they’d perished like the others. For the game has only one survivor and he rides atop a fleshless black beast.
I pace in the street light, my heels click a numbing tune. Many drive past, slowing down, hungry eyes gawking, but it’s just not their time.
The chosen one rolls up, engine humming. I get a blank stare when I smile and say “My service is free.”
His face drains of colour as it dawns. The irrevocable darkness is a rising tide within, a slow choking. I shriek excitedly as he passes over. My wings burst open, eager to deliver him. The judgement is always a feast of pain. Few are redeemed. Snatching his soul in my beak, I soar.
Ne’er To Be Seen Again
Under this post, he lay slumped against the cold stone wall; bleeding, appropriately ripped open. I watch the pain swell in his eyes and it widens my smile. I had not reason to smile in weeks—not since the woman I loved had been murdered in a savage manner. Despite her being of ill repute, I planned to marry. But on a night like tonight, with ring waiting in my pocket, I happened upon her torn body in the street. He took her from me. And now, I’ve taken him away from Whitechapel, ne’er to be seen in London again.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent.
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Her feet traveled up the roughly hewn steps with quiet ease. Ageless, she moved with immortal agility and timeless grace. The ethereal shimmer of her gown accentuated her femininity as she climbed. Beautiful from before time was first counted, Sypheun was gifted beyond most. That is why she went.
The steps rose from far below and stretched into the darkness above. Occasional flashes of light touched her form with their fiery embrace. A myriad of eyes watched from the eager masses below, knowing that only she was capable of performing this rite.
Sypheun glanced over her shoulder and watched the wretched thing that followed her. A flash of anger darkened the bright color of her eyes. “Your kind is never strong enough.” She yanked on the chain with perfectly bridled strength – hard enough to cause pain to the derelict being, but not hard enough to knock it down and cause more work for herself.
She shook her head in disgust. “Worthless creature,” she hissed. Nearly silent wails and breathless moans fell from torn lips as the frail man was forced to keep pace. His almost lifeless eyes held nothing but resignation. The man was spent, aware of nothing but his own pain and anguish.
Sypheun saw the door carved out of the granite above her. “It’s almost time,” she called over her shoulder. “We are in need of another sacrifice.”
The man’s fatigued breathing and vacant stare annoyed her. She jerked the chain again. Anticipating the task at hand, she rushed up the narrowing flight of granite steps nearly dragging her victim behind her. Once at the door, Sypheun pulled a key from her bosom and unlocked it. Only she could enter that other place; do what needed to be done.
A stale gust of cold air pushed through the door as Sypheun slowly opened it. Debris moved with the old stone as she pushed it inward. The pungent aroma of decay teased her nose. “How lovely,” she whispered as she yanked the man into the small room. She loved this part of the ritual. “Do you remember this place?” His eyes began to register something beyond the nothing they had held for so long.
“Maybe once you see a little more, then you will remember. It’s been years since you’ve been here.”
With a slight smirk, she ran her fingers across a stone slab centered in the chamber they now crossed; dust stirred where her hand traced. She looked back at the man and her grin broadened. His eyes were more clear as he seemed to take in his surroundings. Sypheun laughed. “Do you remember that night, so long ago?”
She reached the outer door, unlocked it, and flung it open. The night beyond filled the room. Its dim glow nearly blinded the man who had been kept in utter darkness for so long. Sypheun stepped beyond the door and yanked the chain violently. Her captive fell through the doorway and landed on his hands and knees. He opened his eyes and began to remember.
The rush of memories induced a mental hell of unbearable depth. A full moon cast her cold light upon the miserable soul as he wept bitterly at the entrance of the tomb. Sypheun grabbed the chain and pulled him to his feet.
“Time for a new sacrifice,” she whispered. “You do remember how this works, don’t you?”
He nodded his head in horror. Once vacant eyes looked down at his withered and discolored skin. He had changed more drastically than his fragile mind was ready to accept. Nearly all of his humanity had been drained by the throngs of hungry succubi in the depths below. He was now a ghoul.
The walk through the cemetery all those years ago surfaced through the jumbled mess of memories. He had come on a cold night to find the old tomb that was the subject of so many stories. There were tales of a beautiful specter that haunted the tomb. He had found her. He had also found his damnation.
Sypheun smiled as she saw the flood of memories haunt the creature’s eyes. Her attention drawn away, she heard the sound of nervous footsteps echo across the stones around them. As always, a new fool roamed the grounds and sought to satisfy his curiosity.
The frail ghoul watched with sick aversion as a young man walked towards the tomb. He couldn’t have been much more than fifteen. The young man stopped abruptly when he saw them waiting for him.
Sypheun’s beauty held the boy captive. He didn’t even see the wretch by her side. Her sweet voice filled his ears as she sang an arcane song of blood and death. It lulled him, pulled him to within a few feet of her. Her beauty seduced him; he never saw her remove the chains from the ghoul. Enthralled, he noticed nothing beyond her allure until the strange metal clamped securely around his neck.
He woke from her spell as if seeing for the first time, noticed the ghoul, and cried out in fright. Sypheun jerked the chain and brought him to his knees. The boy fought like a savage beast, but she only smiled in response. “Such energy, such life and vitality. You will serve us well.”
“What the hell are you doing to me,” screamed the boy as he fought against the impossibly strong woman. “You can’t do this!”
Sypheun grabbed the boy’s face. He was immobilized the instant her hand touched him. Her smile broadened as she began to pull at his energy. “Let me teach you a hard lesson. You are about to realize that humanity is not at the top of the evolutionary ladder.”
She began to walk backward towards the dark recesses of the crypt as she talked, the boy helplessly in tow. “All sentient beings evolve through violent exploitation. The acts of seizing, conquering and subjugating are inextricably linked to life as a higher form. It is through sacrifice and death that all things advance and become. This is as true for your kind as it is for mine.”
Sypheun was just inside the door of the crypt when she spoke again. “Ghoul. The crypts are now your home and haunt. By day you will sleep in the rot, then rise and roam by night. Feed on the flesh of the race to which you once belonged. You have returned to this world as a spoiled sacrifice, a harvester of decay. As for you,” she said as she pulled the young man into the darkness, “it’s fitting that you leave your world through the crypt. But you shall find no death here, only the depths where we are eternally hungry.”
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2015 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
Austin gave a nervous chuckle as he looked back and forth between his fellow Scouts’ faces, searching for a sign that this was just a stupid joke. The two older kids held his stare, unblinking.
“You’re kidding, right?” Austin finally said.
“No way. They’re real,” Eddy replied. “Nasty little things too.”
“Yeah. You never heard the tale about the slaughtered troop in these very woods, thirty years ago? A kid by the name of George or Gerald was the only survivor. They found him covered in blood and ranting about wild animals. His hand was ripped off. They chalked it all up to wolves, but we know better.”
“So… if they’re dangerous, why are we going to hunt for one?”
“It’s a test of courage that all Newbies have to take,” Eddy answered.
Austin’s stomach fluttered. Again, he waited for a punch line.
Eddy shook his head. “The Newbie’s too scared.”
Things haven’t been easy for Austin. His poor eyesight forced him into a comically large set of glasses since the start of grade school. Friends were hard to come by and becoming a welcomed member of any group was a pipe-dream. But here, with the Boy Scouts, he might have a chance. Eddy and Kyle were the alphas of the troop and if he could gain their acceptance, he’d be in. Austin ignored the usual warning signs that flashed in his brain, come on nerd, man up for once.
“No way,” he said firmly. “Count me in.”
“Good.” Eddy’s smile widened to Grinch-like proportions, and then he laid out the plan. “Alright, grab your flashlight and your tent bag. We’re going to head out past the latrine and away from the main trail. Kyle will take lead and I’ll watch our backs. You be ready with the bag. Got it?”
“We’re going to follow the tracks. If we find a Snipe, be quick and quiet. Sneak up behind it and get the bag over ‘em fast.”
Austin nodded, leaning harder on his false front of courage.
“So,” he asked in an overly casual tone. “What are we looking for exactly?”
“Um, they’re… small, up to your waist, maybe.” Kyle said.
“But, if they see you, they turn strong and angry. Watch out for their claws.” Eddy said. “If you see a pair of glowing eyes in the dark, it’s already too late. Got it?”
Austin nodded, worried his voice would betray his fading confidence.
“Good. Go get your gear and meet us behind the shitter.”
The forest floor lay hidden beneath three-inches of snowfall. The wet, dense snow made for prime animal tracking conditions, recording any goings-on with the sensitivity of a Richter scale. Solid cloud cover, however—a residual of the morning’s storm—offered little light for searching. Visibility was restricted to the sweep of their Walmart issue flashlights.
They walked for nearly half an hour before Kyle pointed out the first set of prints. He whispered back to the other boys to come look. Austin knelt down, pulled off his mittens, and inspected the imprint, following the shallow indents with his fingers. It was almost avian in shape with two toes and an elongated heel.
They’re real! The alarms blared against his senses again, too loud to ignore this time.
Austin looked over his shoulder, hoping he’d see fear in their faces as well, but Eddy just gave a calm nod. “Keep moving.”
They followed the prints, marching through the forest, weaving around barren trees. The distance between the three boys grew. Austin’s heart pounded; he could feel the thumping in his throat. Each print they passed heightened his desperation; he couldn’t think of a way to end this without seeming like a coward.
Austin clumped along, with no other sound but the soft crunching of snow under their feet. This is stupid! Why did I let them talk me into this?
An unexpected object entered his vision. Austin stared down at a glove resting on the snow. He crouched to pick it up but stopped when he noticed the dark circles. Despite the haze of his weak flashlight, Austin was convinced it was blood.
He jolted to his feet and whipped his light around, searching for the other two Scouts. He saw nothing but the cold skeletal remains of a once lush forest. Listening, he only heard his own panicked breathing.
“Guys?” Austin called out. “Kyle? Eddy?”
Fear took over. He jerked the light erratically, searching the surrounding trees for a blood-thirsty creature. He felt eyes on him, watching his every move.
He looked down at the tracks and started to run. His feet churned, cold air burned in his lungs and the cloud of his exhalation puffed in his face. He didn’t get far before something caught his foot and he hit the ground hard.
Austin flailed in the snow, turned quickly expecting to see a Snipe leaping toward his face, but he was alone. A tree root poked up out of the snow near his boot, offering a brief moment of relief, but his sense of danger still urged him onward. He turned back, preparing to push himself up into a run when he noticed a reflection in his periphery. Terrified it was the eyes of a beast, he jerked the flashlight back. The beam illuminated a small pile of torn ketchup packets partially uncovered by his scrambling movements in the snow.
It took a few seconds for Austin to comprehend what they were and only a few seconds more to figure out their significance. His fear burned away to nothing in the growing blaze of his anger.
Austin jumped to his feet, shouting, “It’s not funny, you… you… Assholes! Get out here. Eddy! Kyle!”
The two scouts stepped out from behind their trees, laughing. Kyle held out a gloveless hand with three fingers extended to show how the animal prints were made. “Oh, man, we got you good!”
“You turned whiter than the snow when you saw that glove,” Eddy added.
“I bet you pissed in your tighty-whities, huh?”
The hot pressure of anger and embarrassment exploded from Austin in a loud battle cry. He used the only weapon he had, packed snow. Austin launched snowballs at them as hard and as fast as he could. Eddy and Kyle ducked out of harm’s way, still chuckling.
After several attempts, Austin stopped to catch his breath. All projectiles had sailed uselessly to the ground except for one close call that struck the tree behind Kyle’s head. The boys laughed, pointing at the snowballs in the frost behind them, and slapping the tree where the lone hit still powdered the bark. They reenacted all the missed throws in a dancing mimicry that heightened their humor and sent them gasping for air.
Austin seethed as they made a fool of him. He clenched his fists and shifted his weight to take a run at them, but the sudden appearance of two lights stole his motivation.
They flickered into being like a dying lamp but in reverse. Then Austin realized the lights were too high off the ground and too steady for approaching flashlights in the hands of other Scouts. Austin glanced at Eddy and Kyle to see if this was somehow part of their plan, but the boys were still calming down from their hysterics, completely self-absorbed.
The lights began to move and blink in unison. Austin wanted to run, to choose flight over fight, but fear rooted him to the spot. The glowing orbs moved down the tree like neon sap while the surrounding bark unfurled into wiry limbs. A high-pitched whine, like tree tops rubbing in the breeze, finally caught the older boys’ attention. They turned around, eyes wide, as the creature landed in a puff of snow behind them.
Its back was dark, covered in coarse bark-like skin. The two lights Austin had seen were a pair of glowing eyes set into the shoulder blades of its lissome form. White crystals from the snowball still glistened between those glaring eyes. Four clawed hands flexed as the creature turned to face its attackers.
It stood on two feet that matched their pretend pattern in the snow. The front flesh of the skeletal creature was smooth and stark white, like the scales of an albino snake, but the boys couldn’t see anything beyond the gnarled head. Four more glowing eyes stared up at them from a heavy brow, and below that, a snarling mouth of jagged teeth waited impatiently for something or someone to gnaw. The noise it produced—a growl that clicked more than it rumbled—broke the silence of their held breaths.
Austin’s hands trembled violently, and despite the strobe effect this had on the scene’s illumination, he could see the snow beneath his fellow scouts steam and melt. The creature looked to be sniffing the air with the pink fleshy appendages ringing its snout—quivering, identifying.
The odor of human urine hit the animal’s senses and it reeled back, shaking its head, swatting at the offensive pheromones.
Eddy, trying to make sense of the nightmare he saw before him, could only manage a single, stuttered word. “Sn-sn-ssniiipe.”
With a roar, the creature pounced on him. Kyle, close to the action, fell backward into the snow. He crab crawled a few feet away from the feeding frenzy, before he scrambled to his feet and took off through the woods.
Austin watched in horror as the creature tore his fellow scout apart. Blood, gore, and down feathers splattered the pristine snow like a grotesque angel. Austin’s mind screamed for his body to flee but he couldn’t. The flashlight felt heavy and his hands had gone numb. He thought about what might happen if he let it fall – then he noticed the other lights.
All the surrounding trees were now adorned with their own set of white-glowing eyes. The tree bark all around them began to crawl. The forest came alive with slithering Snipes and clicking growls. Austin squeezed his eyes shut as dozens of creatures sped past him in pursuit of the escaping prey.
Moments passed and distant screams told of more victims. Austin knew they had found the campsite. There were too many screams followed by too much silence. He wondered if he was the only one left.
With no recent sign or sound of them, Austin decided to find a way out. Pivoting on his heel, he turned slowly—his held breath burning cold in his chest and his eyes darting around for movement in the trees.
A soft clicking noise in his ear seized everything. He couldn’t stop trembling. He couldn’t blink. With a blast of warm breath on his neck, the creature exhaled and stepped around him, all the while sniffing the air as it moved into view.
Austin stood face to face with the Snipe. It tilted its head as the star-shaped nose worked to confirm what its ineffective eyes could not comprehend. Then, more appeared—wandering in for a closer view. The first one spoke to the others in a series of shrills and clicks.
It was clear what Austin had to do.
He remembered the story his Uncle Gerard told the kids several years back after too many drinks on Halloween. He claimed his mutilated hand was the only reason he was still alive. He said it was a message. He also rattled on about little demons, and how he was the last one, but it never made sense until now. Uncle Gerard was the messenger and his left hand was the warning. The Snipes had ripped off the index finger and pinky, leaving behind their virtual footprint as a symbol of territory—a warning for others to see and fear.
Austin removed his mittens and held out his left hand.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
It moved! I swear on my mother’s grave I saw it move! Glancing up, I scan the faces surrounding the table trying to determine if anyone else saw the jerking motion. No one seems to have noticed; they’re all laughing and drinking, chattering away happily while waiting to be fed.
I blink a few times to clear my eyes. I’ve been working too hard lately, putting in too many hours, that’s all. I raise the carving knife and fork once more, preparing to plunge them into the bird trussed before me. It fucking moves again! This time with an accompanying slopping sound. A bead of sweat breaks out on my upper lip; my wife is staring at me hesitantly. With both hands now resting on either side of the beast, I take a few slow, deep breaths to calm my overwrought nerves. A slight nudge comes from my right. It’s my wife, a strained smile on her face; she nods toward the foul creature. I nod back.
Bringing the arm with the fork up, I dab at the dew above my lip and make an off-hand comment about it being roasting in here. Everyone laughs. A small shake of my head, I exhale and raise the knife once again to begin slicing the meat. As the gleaming instruments near the platter, I hear a voice in my head. ‘Go on ya piss-ant piece of shit – cut me open. Show everyone what a big man you are and gut me. Gut me like you gutted your wife when the doctor told her there was no physical reason you couldn’t get it up. Ya don’t have the balls to stick it to her, and you don’t have the balls to stick it to me either!’
What the fuck? My knees nearly buckle and my wife reaches out to steady me. I jerk my arm away. The room grows quiet, the tension nearly palpable. I toss out another remark meant as a joke; the responding chortle is terse, fraught with unease. My wife is no longer smiling; she looks worried. I try to reassure her with a smile of my own, but a bare shake of her head lets me know she’s not buying it. ‘Ya know, she doesn’t have any faith in you anymore, right? She was expecting to marry a man, and look what she got – you! She knows about Terry, too.’ I almost utter a response but choke on my own spittle instead. ‘Yeah, that’s right. She knows you’re sticking it to that bitch from work. She knows you been doin’ it for the past month when all you’re bringin’ home is that limp fish in your pants, she just doesn’t wanna ruin this family get-together-thing. Your ass is outta here as soon as they’re gone, buddy!’
Sure that I’m pale as a ghost, I lean on the table for support once more. My head hanging, limbs trembling; the nervous tick of the fork tapping against a glass the only sound in the nearly silent room. My wife reaches over again and lays a hand on my forearm. I lash out to shove her away, forgetting that I’m holding the carving knife. We stare at one another in shock for a heartbeat before her body crashes forward into the china, her throat sliced ever so neatly from side to side. As the crimson of her blood mixes with the pumpkin colored hue of her favorite tablecloth, a slight gurgling is all that resounds. I look on in horrified disbelief, then one of the children lets out an ear-piercing screech. The demon starts again, ‘Ha! Look what you…’
I begin stabbing it with the fork, maniacally ripping it to bits while screaming incoherently. Everyone in the room is staring at me like I’ve gone insane. I try to explain about the turkey… about not realizing I was still holding the knife… about the pressure I’ve been under… but there isn’t a sympathetic eye to be found. ‘You know what you have to do, don’t ya? If you don’t, they’ll lock you up in the loony bin again.’ An icy cold sheet of acceptance washes over me as I move to the doorway, blocking my teenage brother-in-law from escaping.
I was really hoping this family would be different, not like the last…
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2014/2015 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.