What I coughed up quivered like a wad of raspberry jelly. If I looked close enough, which I wouldn’t, I’d probably see little black specks as well, though they were far from seeds. I let my lung berry slide off my palm into the wastebasket by the daybed. My head spun for a moment and I gripped the edge of the mattress, my body tensing, waiting for another round.
It didn’t come.
Praise be. Testify and all that shit.
My lungs rattled like a broken catalytic converter, and were about as reliable as this point. I remember those damned revolting anti-smoking commercials they used to have on TV – back when there was TV. The last thing I needed was to see someone’s moldy neck hole or missing toes, yellowed stumps oozing with infection. They always played them during baseball games, when all I wanted to do was have a bite to eat and smoke my cigar in peace.
They said smoking would kill me.
Ha! Here I am, a goddamn mess but still kicking, and there they are, meat for the Pollywogs. I haven’t heard someone cry out for a while now. The Pollywogs must have gotten them all. Oh, I hear their roars all right, but I’m not afraid. I’m no use to them. Craplungs like me, we got a free pass when those black sperm beasties came charging out of cracks in the earth.
Who said lung cancer was a death sentence? Sure, it would kill me eventually, but better that than having my lungs ripped from me while I was still alive long enough to watch one of those things wolf them down like fat sardines.
There are only two of us left in the apartment building – me and Mrs. Church down in 3B. She’s pushing sixty, a lifelong asthmatic. In other words, a Craplung. We didn’t like each other before the shit hit the fan and don’t pretend to adore one another now. Sure, I bring her those puffers from ravaged drug stores every now and then, but all in all, we keep our distance.
Although there was that day I caught her bending down to pick some broken glass from the floor. Her robe opened up just enough for me to spy two smooth mounds of young looking breasts. I had to stop myself from grabbing them. It wasn’t like she could call the police.
No. Not Mrs. Church. She was only the last woman in the building, not the last woman on Earth. I wasn’t that desperate. Though I did drop a few over my knuckles that night. Too much pressure isn’t good. I think it feeds the cancer or something.
Time to get up. I see the bright pink of dusk outside my grimy window. The little bowl I used to fill with water for my cat Ted is bone dry. Ted went out for a stroll a week ago and he hasn’t been back since. I’d never seen a Pollywog rip the lungs from a cat or dog , but when things were going down, I spent a lot of time running, not observing.
For the past three nights, I’d been searching for Ted, right in the thick of Pollywog feasting time. They steered clear of me, one almost coming within ten feet before literally turning tail. It smelled like sea water, rotting vegetables and some kind of chemical. Not pleasant, but what about them was?
Opening a can of Fancy Feast – shredded chicken in sauce, Ted’s favorite – I grab a flashlight from the peg on the wall, don my fedora (yes, I was a hipster before the world ended) and walk out into bedlam.
I knock on Mrs. Church’s door. “You need anything while I’m out?”
She gives a quick reply. “Yeah, a medium steak from Morton’s.”
I walk away to her laughter. I think she’s becoming a Crazy. This whole situation can break your brain in two. She won’t be a problem. I can take her down if she goes full-on Crazy. Unless it takes her too long to turn and my cancer eats my muscles away. Don’t want that. I add ‘consider taking the old lady out’ to my to-do list. Proactive beat the hell out of reactive.
The night air makes me cough, but not enough to dredge up more lung jelly. Something darts between two cars up ahead. I don’t see it, but I know what it is.
“Here Ted.” I make little susss-susss-suusss sounds. I hear Pollywogs grunting and growling, but no meow.
“This isn’t for you, semen suckers!”
A pair of them round the corner, charging at me. They pull up short well before they get close enough for me to catch their aromatic stench.
“That’s right, Craplung on the prowl. Where the hell is my cat?”
I walk down the block, tapping the can, calling for Ted. Every now and then, I spy a Pollywog and have a little one-way conversation before it scampers away.
It’s then I realize, maybe I’m one of the Crazies. Who the fuck goes looking for a cat, blabbering to beasts from the planet’s center?
I get tired easy. I have to lean against a wire fence to catch my breath. I chuck the cat food over the fence. Maybe Ted will find it later. Maybe he’ll smell my scent and come back to where the rest of the food is.
I feel a humdinger of a coughing fit coming on, close my eyes and will it away. My lungs hitch painfully, but I don’t give in.
When I regain some equilibrium, I open my eyes.
A Pollywog, its black eyes inches from my own, stands before me. Up close, the smell is worse than ever. Its flesh looks wet, catching rainbows like spilled oil. Its tail swishes back and forth, sweeping empty cans and trash under a parked Honda.
The cough hits me like a rabbit punch. A fat gob of lung berry propels from my mouth, splattering on the Pollywog. It shrieks like a classroom of girls having a tub of tarantulas dumped on them.
As it runs away, I scream, “Chicken shit!”
Chuckling as I make my way back, I think I’ll reward my brush with the big bad Pollywog by demanding Mrs. Church shows me her tits. We may be the last of a dying race, but we’re still in charge. Might as well make the most of it.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved
The Number Forty-Nine lurches as it pulls away from the curb. Hydraulics hiss, and through the settling fog Max makes out brake lights, blinking indifferently in the drizzle. Teeth clenched, he gives chase, struggling against the stream of evening commuters.
Men and women obscure his way, laden with laptop cases and rucksacks, lost in their cell phones, oblivious to all but the hot jargon blowing from their mouths. He breaks from the crowd in time to see another flash of faltering brake lights in the fog. Then the bus slides into the haze and is gone.
Frustration flares inside him, to be swallowed by a void of overwhelming helplessness. Running a hand through his wet hair, he wishes again that he had left the office earlier. There had been a team brief. That file he could not leave unfinished, the conversation with Frederick in the meeting room, it all seems meaningless now in the absence of his lift home. The rain picks up, driving him to take cover beneath the bus shelter. A mad whinny, perhaps the screech of car tyres, fills the street.
In the wake of the six-ten, the shelter is abandoned. Max takes a seat on one of the benches, then stands and wanders over to the timetable. Graffiti obscures the arrival times beneath green stars and ugly swear-words. The next bus might be ten minutes or forty. His shoulder finds the metal post, cold but supportive, and for a moment he is tempted to wait. With a little luck he could be home within the hour.
The thought no sooner enters his mind when he turns up his collars, steps out beneath the sky, and makes for the nearest Underground station. Luck has not been on his side today.
The rain is merciless, and in moments he is drenched. His navy jacket darkens, his white shirt clinging to him like a second transparent skin. The commuter current drags him along.
The street blurs around him. Men and women become base silhouettes; shadows of people glimpsed in his periphery. Shapes sag, stooped against the weather, darkening like his jacket, and it is easy to imagine the rain is responsible; soaking the street, weighing it down, waterlogging the pavement and the people forced to use it. The fog lingers around the road, a blank canvas into which the silhouettes vanish, or reappear suddenly, chased into sight again by headlights and the breathy snort of car engines.
The entrance to the Underground yawns ahead. The current pulls him closer, and even though it is raining, and the station is his destination, he cannot help the wave of panic that crashes over him. Bodies press closer as the stream narrows; flesh and blood and corporate bones digging into his ribs, knocking his shoulders, finding the small of his back. As he approaches the turnstiles, he fumbles in his wallet for the monthly pass that will activate them. Then he is through them, and stepping onto an escalator.
He hates the Underground. If the city’s streets are its thumbprints then these subterranean channels are surely the bare soles of its feet; cankerous, black with grime and ripe with trapped human smells. He detects sweat, and smoke, and the imagined flavour of despair in this place where people crowd and the wind cannot reach –
Despair, but not darkness. Fluorescent strip bulbs line the ceilings, built into the brick or guarded behind strips of wire-mesh, their harsh light as merciless as the deluge outside, every cracked tile, every broken bottle, every billboard plastered with adverts illuminated in the unforgiving brightness. More graffiti covers one of the tunnel walls, language and art reduced to expletives in this place where there is no air and it is never dark –
A train roars through the station without stopping, and he realises he’s standing on the platform. He doesn’t remember stepping from the escalator or escaping the current, but he is here. Carriages shudder past, axles rocking, and he finds rhythm in their terrible speed. He thinks of carousels, and their bobbing steeds, and the motion of real steeds thundering across open fields with nothing but the breeze in their manes and the vast empty sky overhead for company. He used to ride, when he was little and he would visit his grandparents in Sussex.
He knows what it feels like, to take off with an animal and say goodbye to everyone and everything left behind. He didn’t appreciate it then, of course, but increasingly he has been remembering it now. He clings to the memory, covering himself with it, drawing it into him, soothing against his tired skin.
The times on the electronic board inform him that his train is due. He hears it first, its arrival announced by something halfway between a sigh and a mechanical scream. Then the carriages slide into view and he finds himself stepping on-board and finding a seat.
The inside of the carriage is no less bright than the rest of the station. Each seat is mostly plastic, with a covering of something intended to be softer. Stains and daily wear have made the fabric almost unidentifiable. He finds a seat at the far end, slightly away from the other passengers, as the train sets off again.
Alone, he stares at his reflection in the glass window opposite him. In the blackness of the tunnel, the window is a mirror. The harsh light is as unforgiving to his face as it was to the rest of the station. The bags under his eyes are heavy and dark, his skin pale, lips tight. Any traces of humour have been banished by the missed bus. Any traces of youth have been drained by the long day. He thinks again of his grandparents’ house in Sussex, and the horses in their stables, and the young boy who rode them. Eagerly, perhaps desperately, he searches his reflection, looking for some sign that his younger self lives yet, somewhere inside.
“Where are you?” he asks, watching the slight movement of his lips. “Where are you now?”
Lights flash behind the speeding carriage windows, and for a moment he thinks he sees something else through the glass; a horse’s head, thrown back, lips speckled with froth and blood. The glass clouds with hot breath as another giddy scream fills his ears. Then the train is slowing again, and he realises it is braking. Standing, he moves towards the door.
The rest of the carriage is empty. He does not know how long he has been sitting here, or which station they are pulling into. The name of their destination appears on a small screen above the connecting doors but the letters swim in and out of focus. Rubbing his eyes, he fumbles for the button that opens the carriage doors and disembarks.
The platform is similarly empty. He moves slowly towards the stairwell, possessed by the insane notion that he is on an abandoned film set after hours. His life up to this point feels like an act, a supporting part in someone else’s show, or less than that; a walk-on role for which he is not even acknowledged afterwards. He repeats his name to himself, to prove that it is real and it is his. The word echoes around him.
He is at the bottom of the stairs when he hears another sound in the station. Turning, he cranes his head. He is still alone, but the sound is clearer now, growing louder from the darkness either side of the empty train: the casual clatter of hooves against metal.
A part of him is drawn to the darkness of the tunnel. It seems an impossible thing here, where the harsh lights are unfaltering. In darkness there is comfort; respite enough from the rest of the world to draw real breath and find relief. It would be an easy thing, to wander to the edge of the platform and climb down. Then he hears the clip-clop of hooves again, and heavy breaths. When two white eyes appear, floating in the gloom, he turns and flees.
The steps are slippery, or perhaps it is his haste that makes him trip and fall. With delayed dream-momentum he stumbles away, up the stairs and the escalator long since switched off for the night. He races past the turnstiles, all set to open, and into the night-time street.
He does not stop running. He cannot remember ever having run so fast or with such wild abandon. Nor is he quite sure what he’s running from. He cannot see his pursuer but he hears its snorts, feels the warmth of its breath on his face and in his mouth. He tastes blood and sugar-cubes. Puddles shatter underfoot.
It has stopped raining, at least. The fog has lifted, too, the city glistening as though iced. He races faster through the streets, sometimes stumbling, other times reaching new found speeds, but the alleyways are never-ending. He wonders if he could run forever and still not escape, if there will always be another road, another side-walk, another set of street-lights illuminating his face, casting shadows beneath his eyes.
Headlights turn into the road ahead, and through a different kind of fog he remembers something; lateness, another run, the bus he should have caught to take him home. Lowering his head, he gives chase. The wind tousles his hair. The sound of his shoes marries with that of hoof-beats in the night.
It might be the same bus and it might not; the detail does not seem remotely relevant anymore. Exhilaration presses at his ribs, his belly, running like electricity through his limbs.
He remembers other missed buses, and board meetings in which his colleagues may as well have been speaking different languages. He remembers missing files and the inane chatter that spills from Frederick’s mouth whenever his colleague corners him in his office. He remembers the helplessness that consumed him, when he realised that he had missed his lift home. But he is not helpless now. In the cold night, with the wind in his hair and his eyes, he feels free.
The bus is slow, and in moments he has caught up with it. As he pulls parallel to the vehicle, he catches sight of his reflection again in the row of windows and finds himself changed. Slabs of muscle in his legs ripple with each stride, a vast belly swinging beneath him, hooves striking fiercely against the ground: Great Nyctaeus, reborn of this modern Hades!
Moonlight picks out his monstrous shape in majesty; slender but powerful as he thunders onwards. His eyes gleam like two pearls in his head. He glances once more at the windows, tossing back his broad neck. Pink foam from his muzzle flecks the glass.
A dream flits through his head: the sight of an open field beneath empty skies. Then it is gone again. Charging ahead, nostrils flaring, he chases the night through dark satanic streets.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved
Mother Nature’s realm, the one place I feel at home and alive and deadly. I lie in wait. I’m anxious yet patient because I know one will come, and when she does, the waiting will make it all the more sweet. The anticipation builds until I feel like I may burst. Ah, here comes one now. Her shoes pressing into the moist soil and the pebbles crunching beneath her feet triggers my pulse to race out of control. Mmm. I slide the blade across my palm, the pain further heightening my senses. So beautiful, so alive. She has no idea.
Unmarked is the spot but I know the way, I walk there every night in my dreams. Twigs snap under foot, the lush canopy overhead casts dappled light on stones. Nobody knows your resting place and nobody misses you it seems. I return to unearth you, piece by piece, as on my mind the memories play. Carefully I take your hand in mine again. The knotted bones of our fingers slip together and lock. Your hand so thin, white and smooth, the flesh eaten away. My hand soft, pink and lined with the dirt of words I dare not say.
He huddled between the bush and his meal and snorted his frustration. Nocturnal eyes glared as the light spread across the ground and chased his protective darkness away. Grom dropped the glob of intestines and looked around for the hole to his clan’s subterranean home.
“Piss,” he gurgled.
Grom started to claw furiously at the elk’s belly, thinking he could hide inside the bloody carcass. He pulled out a pile of guts and dove inside just as the sun rose.
His large eyes peered out from the gore, hateful of the poisonous light that bathed the clearing in wholesome death.
I spotted dragons on the water and rang the alarm—hammering the bell with all my strength—but, they were too fast. They hit the shore running, swatting away our arrows like pesky flies. Their strength and size was terrible to behold. We sent a barrage of prayers, efforts in futility as even God was outnumbered by their one-eyed Odin and his troop of Gods. Few survivors were taken, loot for the barter like gold and silver. I saw it all from the tower before fleeing into the forest where I lived out my days in fear of their return.
The woods sing to him, and their song is the howl of wild dogs. He wakes to it in his single apartment bed, nine floors above the city, and in the artificial pallor of the subway after long days at work.
There was a time when he wondered where the sounds came from, and why. Then he realised it was him. In this cold, grey place, he bore the forest in his flesh. He is the bear, the crow, the lone wolf with ravenous appetite.
In the relative dark of moonless nights, he hunts well by the glow of streetlamps.
Can You See Me?
Can you see me? Nobody has yet. Look at that scenery. Rocks spread out like a carpet; foliage draped like tapestries; and sunshine illuminating a path. It looks peaceful, beautiful, undisturbed. Families walk through, children laughing with their parents unsuspecting. Who would feel the need to keep their guard up? This is their leisure, their getaway… and my hunting ground. They are my prey, carefree and oblivious to the danger; unaware of my presence. Slipping silently through the trees, I stalk, then strike. Their fear fills my nostrils; their blood my mouth; their screams my ears. Can you see me?
Joseph A. Pinto
I will not sing; listen if you wish to, but not today. Empty promises have turned me into a joke and I have finally bought into my own foreshadowing, granted the chance to call my parting shot. I struggle to realize this paradise surrounding me, struggle to be soothed under these vigilant boughs. But you had to know this day would come eventually, did you not? Don’t act surprised when you find me melded with the pores of the earth. Sit at the bole of this tree, write the lyrics I could never mouth, intone the good life I deserved.
Twisted variants of nature rest, their moment of revenge at hand. Those responsible for the ruination of what they once were will pay the ultimate price.
Sunshine rocks the ravine, giving a false sense of bliss to anyone who might wander this way. Evil lurks, festering in the trees and rocks, licking its lips in anticipation of what is to come.
Foot plants sound, steady, unaware. The fool comes closer, not able to see the creatures blending so well into the rocks and trees. In a fraction of a second, the young man drops.
The polished stones drip with blood…
Under the loose stones I laid her down to sleep – my rock, my love. Down the path where we once walked, two souls at nature’s end. To the place we shared our wonder, our hopes, and on that final day, my secret.
I wonder if the worms have hatched, wriggling from her flesh. Prying a stone from the wet earth, I breathe deep, lick its soiled bottom, feel the beetles skitter along my tongue.
Ah, it’s her taste I miss the most.
Was it wrong to tell her my fantasies? My desire to one day consume her fruited body?
Strike, squeal, wrap – a struggle to breath; it mistakenly exhales. Tighten the coil; death comes swiftly. I feast. My stomach distends; I lie baking in warm bliss. The day’s shine scuttles away; my body cools in concert. I follow, sluggishly laden with my prize. Smooth rocks caress my underbelly; a shedding begins. I slowly work my way through the the maze: peeling, sloughing, morphing; revealing. A tremor travels through the stone bed; my senses heighten. No rustle, no sound, only deep vibration. It approaches. The trail of flesh betrays me; a single glance ends me – the Basilisk is upon me.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2015
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Screeching tires broke through the tunes raging in Mark’s headphones. He lifted a middle finger before he raised his eyes to see who was honking at him.
“Get the hell out of the road asshole,” screamed the man as he drove away.
Mark pulled the headphones off as he watched the car. It belonged to a guy down the road. A reckless grin crossed Mark’s face. He would take care of that later. Mark looked at the house as he walked up to the front door.
It had never felt like his house – like a home. The immaculate lawn, trees and bushes trimmed, even the rocks looked like they had been categorized and placed carefully. If there were a 10th circle in Dante’s Inferno, Mark thought, it would have been suburbia.
A store-bought scent filled the air as he walked in through the front door. Today’s candle gave off the scent of baked apple pie. Mark scoffed. The oven was for display only. A noise from one of the back rooms caught Mark’s attention.
“Shit,” he mumbled as he put the headphones back on and held his backpack tighter. “They’re back early.”
Mark hurried to the stairs. The parental units made it to the bottom of the stairs just as he reached the top. He moved quickly down the hall while his hands drummed a heavy musical beat against the backpack. The music wasn’t loud enough to drown out the sound of feet stomping up the stairs. Mark knew the telltale sound of disgust and loathing in their heavy footfalls. He made it to his door before the headphones were yanked off his head from behind.
“I said turn that sorry excuse for music off when you are in this house,” said Steve. It was Dad only if there was company.
“Sorry,” Mark said through clenched teeth, “I have algebra and was getting in the mood to do pointless bullshit.”
Beth, Mother when occasion called, pasted a faux smile on as she stood next to Steve.
“We came home early because there is something we need to talk to you about.” Beth’s lips and eyes twitched as she exchanged one counterfeit grin for another.
Mark turned his music up as he replied. “I’ll work on my algebra for an hour and then come downstairs. Something smells great down there.”
Beth’s face scrunched with confusion. Steve looked suspicious. Mark stepped into his room as he continued. “Smells like pie or something. I love it when you bake.”
He closed the door, but Steve opened it just enough for his face to show and glared at Mark. “You have 45 minutes or we will come up here.”
Mark closed the door again, opened his backpack and pulled out his bong. The water sloshed against the sides as he prepared the water pipe. The meeting with the parental units just begged for a large hit. He was tired of the lies.
Once the bong was ready, he put flame to the bud. Mark sucked deep and watched as the clear chamber filled with smoke. He dropped the lighter onto his bed and was about to open the window when he decided it was time. The bed creaked as Mark sat down and removed his finger from the carb. The chamber quickly emptied of the white smoke as Mark pulled it all into his lungs. He held it in until his head started to swim.
“It’s time for the truth,” Mark said. His words were carried away on a cloud as he tried to decide what to do. Thoughts bounced around in his head like a pinball machine. Most of those thoughts shied away when he tried to reach for them. Only one remained clear. Truth.
He ground more bud and filled the bowl. Truth was bold and brutal. Mark knew brutal, now it was time for bold. He grabbed his lighter and opened the door. Steve and Beth were downstairs talking.
“… a bad kid.”
“Adoption was a stupid idea…”
“… time to get rid of him.”
He almost laughed. This was going to be great. Mark started noisily down the steps. The talking below stopped, but he’d give them something to talk about. Mark reached the bottom of the stairs and walked into the kitchen. Beth and Steve looked shocked. Mark lit the bud and inhaled a full load. Smoke erupted from his lips as he spoke.
“Now that is how you bake.”
“You sorry piece of shit,” Steve screamed.
Beth had no more bogus smiles. “We give you everything and this is how you repay us? Well, now it’s time for the truth. We adopted you when you were little, thinking we could raise you to be like us. But it wasn’t possible. You’re a bad kid.” Beth’s voice was full of relief.
Steve jammed a finger at Mark’s chest. “We were going to wait until you turned eighteen, but neither of us can stand you anymore. Get out!”
“Since it’s time for the truth,” Mark said coldly, “it’s my turn to share.”
“What more could you share? You’re just a rotten kid.”
A sinister smile crawled across Mark’s face and a shadow fell over his eyes. “That is my lie. The lie. You have no idea how bad I am. Let me show you my truth.”
Mark swung the bong and broke it against Steve’s head. Shards of glass opened his forehead with a splash of blood and gouged out one of his eyes. Mark pulled a knife out of his pocket and slashed the blade across Steve’s neck. Beth was about to scream when Mark jumped up and grabbed her throat with a crushing grip. He turned and watched Steve’s movements go from strong and spastic to weak and sporadic. It didn’t take long for the blood to stop flowing and his twitching extremities to relax.
Mark looked back at Beth, shoved her back against the fridge, and slowly stuck the blade underneath her sternum. He breathed quietly and looked deep into her eyes as she kicked and convulsed.
“Is it better to live with a lie, or die with the truth?”
Beth’s reply wouldn’t matter. Mark was free because he already knew the answer.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2015 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.