The elevator lurches to a stop on the fifth floor and the orderly leads me out as the doors swish open. It’s always quiet up here. The carpeted floors, potted plants and framed paintings on the walls almost make you forget that you’re in a mental institution.
Dr. Quill’s office is the last door on the left at the far end of the hall. Harold guides me down; his hand gently gripping my elbow. In the five-plus years I’ve been here, the orderly has always been decent to me.
We stop in front of Dr. Quill’s door.
There are nice, stained-wood doors up here, while we’re stuck with steel ones painted a sterilizing grey.
Harold checks his watch and at precisely 4:00pm, he knocks.
“Come in, please.” Dr. Quill’s voice is faint and gentle.
Harold turns the knob and pushes the door open.
Dr. Quill’s windowless office appears smaller than it actually is thanks to four large book shelves that dominate the far wall. Each shelf is lined with expensive looking medical encyclopedias and I wonder if he’s even read one of them. There are two fake potted plants in the corners to my left and right.
The good doctor is standing behind his desk, smiling.
“Good afternoon, Xavier,” he says.
Dr. Quill nods to Harold who turns and leaves, shutting the door behind him.
“Have a seat,” Dr. Quill says, gesturing to the single chair in front of his desk.
I take him up on his offer and sit. The chair has always been surprisingly comfortable.
“How are you feeling today, Xavier?” he asks, pulling his chair closer by the arm rests. A yellow pad of lined paper sits on his desk with his expensive pens. He takes the cap off one of them and holds the pen in his hand, ready to write.
I smile. “Fantastic.”
“And why is that?”
“Today is the day that all of this ends.”
He begins scrawling his notes on the pad. “All of what ends, Xavier? Our sessions?”
More scrawls. “What time will this occur?”
Dr. Quill stops writing and looks at his watch, then back up at me. His glasses are resting on the end of his nose and he has to tilt his head down to look over them at me. “That’s a precise time… and so soon.”
“He’s waited long enough and sees no point in delaying his arrival any longer.”
“You are referring to…”
“So Sredna is coming at 4:09?”
I nod. “I’ve told you all about him week in and week out for the last five years. I’ve been his conduit and you still don’t believe that he exists, do you?”
“He’s real to you.”
I giggle. “Very soon he will be real to you too, Doc.”
“What will happen when he gets here?”
“He will eat our reality.”
“You say it so matter-of-fact.”
“It’s what he does.”
Dr. Quill writes some more in his notes and is about to speak when he hears it.
A low hum that’s very faint but we both register it. My fillings begin to tingle and my heart beats faster.
He is coming.
A high-pitched shriek cuts through the air and all of the light bulbs explode in a shower of sparks. Dr. Quill jumps back, letting out a cry of surprise as the entire room is thrown into blackness.
“Don’t worry, Xavier. The emergency lights will kick in any minute.”
His voice is muffled and seems far away. I cannot see him anymore in this blackness.
The blackness is moving, almost wriggling with no distinct shape.
I notice my skin is burning. The pain is excruciating yet I don’t scream as Sredna fills my mouth, rendering it useless. My skin dissolves, exposing muscle tissue and it too is quickly eaten away.
In what I can only guess to be a matter of seconds, the burning subsides and then…
…there is nothing.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
I was born twice. Once in my own world, of which I recall very little, and once again by a human vessel. My consciousness was merged with human seed and implanted in a hot womb of thriving tissue. Perhaps those months spent within my human host are the most enjoyable in my memory. No one could reach me there. I was happy, alone, protected and silent; safe from the Fathers and not yet privy to the horrors of this Earth. Nourishment was instant. I desired nothing, much like the state I once enjoyed in my homeland. Then came the time to be expelled and no matter how much I refused, the imperative of the human body was unstoppable. I was squeezed in the most undignified way through a narrow canal, my skull and limbs crushed by straining muscles.
Deformed and coated in human slime, I arrived on this planet. I screeched in terror, in outrage. The humans smiled, their faces glazed with ignorance. They were so proud of themselves and so smitten with me, as if I really was their very own creation.
I once met another like myself. This never occurs, it was no coincidence. It was a warning, to teach me a lesson.
He appeared to be a well dressed business man. We passed each other on the street, then we both stopped and turned back to stare at one another. He looked around anxiously. He dropped his briefcase and grabbed my arms.
“Free yourself!” he hissed. “Use the humanity to mask yourself!”
He revealed his true eyes to me, the pupils stretched to long slits, the colour of the iris drained away. I looked at him helplessly and recognised the burden cast upon us, this human suffering we are made to bear. I felt his fingers morph as they clutched me, stretching and curling into long grey digits.
There was so much I wanted to ask him but I couldn’t utter a sound and our meeting was swiftly ended. He coughed, buckled and seized, his skin began to smoke and burn, the smell of it revolting. I felt his excruciating pain and together we screamed. Still clutching me he melted like wax, his body folding upon itself, bones and organs exposed for a moment before disintegrating. I stared as his sizzling remains, my clothes stained with his dripping flesh.
I was on a busy street; humans rushed past me, unaware as usual. Blind, deaf and dumb to the reality around them. I couldn’t make sense of the emotions coursing through me. Is this madness? I wondered, Can I succumb to the weaknesses of the human mind?
I have been sent here as many before me were sent and many more will follow. We live among you while your governments shoot their toy rocket ships into space. We are here beside you as you stare into the night sky pondering extraterrestrials. You are infantile, primitive creatures. My Fathers recognise your wealth even if you do not. The rich earth you live upon and the unique consciousness and bodies you possess, there is much on your planet for them to reap and therefore they sow. Each generation is a little less human as we assimilate your genes.
Their grand design and agenda, that I can’t disclose for I don’t know myself. I serve as countless others serve. I receive my instructions one at a time and everything that occurs in this human life I inhabit is preordained, I have no free will to gamble with.
I have jumped through all the hoops; school, work, family. I have upheld an identity, a personality. All these things I have endured, as well as any real human, for the sake of the Fathers. Every day I wonder, is my service finally complete? Will I soon be able to vacate this form? Perhaps tomorrow a car will crush me or I will be shot in the street or better still, I will be given the directive to do it myself. I would gladly poison this body, laughing as it twitched and jerked to its demise. I daydream about slashing wrists and broken necks. I would revel in the torture of this soft, sensual jail. I have never become fully accustomed to it. It accomplishes things in such slow, inefficient ways, victim to the savage torment of time as it gradually breaks down like a tired machine. The chewing and digestion of food, defecating and urinating, the putrid mess of sexual intercourse; it is perverse.
My swelling womb stretched my stomach to obscene proportions. I was smooth, round and ripe, ready to burst; pregnant. For the first time I felt fear, what more will the Fathers demand of me?
The man who is my husband was happy in the simple manner of humans. He served me tea, stuffing more pillows around me, propping me up like the doll I am. He rattled on about possible names for the offspring and how we should decorate the nursery.
Bloated like a rotting thing, I was more disgusted by this body than ever before. A grim depression overcame me. It was then I realized there is no higher purpose for me to fulfill. I am simply here to propagate for the Fathers.
My human husband said, “Cheer up darling, everything will be fine!”
I wobbled to the window and looked up at the night sky. Beyond those faint twinkling stars, an inconceivable distance away in human time, is my home. I close my eyes and try to remember the serene cities of my planet, free of all artifice and decoration, cold, simple, perfect; the identical faces of my clan – nothing was random in my world, nothing was superfluous, life thrived in geometric precision; and I remember the wars, thousands slaughtered in one breath by intergalactic beings more powerful and merciless than us.
The bone stretching contractions, the violent spasms cracking this body open. A spine buckling possession. No amount of screaming alleviated the torment, it was a grueling marathon to the brink of human endurance.
“Don’t give it to me!” I shrieked when they handed me the writhing little monster.
It looked so perfectly human; its skin pink, its eyes blue. But I can feel its ancient power. It is one of my kind, much older and stronger than I have ever known.
At first I tried to kill it. Surely its fragile body would be easy to kill? I bashed its little skull on the floor. I tried to smother it, to drown it. But it survived unscathed while I was struck down with pain.
It doesn’t stop howling until I bring it to my breast. It latches on and sucks greedily, the little leech. I cry the strange salt of human tears as I realize it is not over for me, it has only just begun. I am a mother of the new breed. I will grow old and wrinkled and die a tedious human death while this hybrid creature will flourish and conquer, favored by evolution. My baby stares up at me and gurgles innocently, drooling from its perfect rosebud lips.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
“Come on, Bobby, quit being such a mamma’s boy,” Darryl said as he held the front of the rowboat steady.
Bobby sat wringing his hands, contemplating whether he would get out of the boat and join Darryl on the rocky shoreline, or just like every other time Darryl got a wild hair up his ass, he’d stay behind and listen to Darryl’s embellishments from the adventure on his own.
Against his better judgment, Bobby stood and swallowed his nerves along with any common sense and stumbled toward the front of the boat, reaching for Darryl’s outstretched hand.
Darryl pulled Bobby onto shore and they tied the boat off to a piece of rebar protruding from one of the hunks of concrete making up the shore. “Well, well. Look who’s not being a pussy for once in his life,” Darryl said before delivering a benign punch to Bobby’s shoulder.
Darryl scurried his way up the bank of the island and after a deep breath, Bobby followed. Once on flat ground, the eeriness of Hart Island really settled in. Only a few dilapidated structures remained and the full moon only provided filtered light through the clouds. A stiff breeze blew across the island, carrying a unique and pungent odor with it.
“Come on, Bobby, try to keep up.”
Though Darryl was only 13 months older than Bobby, he had seen things that were well beyond his years. With a single mom at home who didn’t give a shit what her son was up to, Darryl was mostly on his own. Bobby’s mother had tried to be there for Darryl if he needed anything, but that wasn’t enough to keep Darryl out of trouble.
Bobby was a good kid and even though his father split when he was 7, his mom always maintained a solid relationship with him. Bobby knew at some point, he and Darryl would need to go their separate ways in life or they’d both end up either dead or in prison, but since it was Darryl’s fifteenth birthday, he figured he’d go along with him on this little adventure.
Darryl had a creepy obsession with death. Bobby’s mom said it was because he was the one who found his alcoholic, asshole of a dad dead in the basement. He’d gone down there to get hammered after losing another job and passed out on the couch. At some point during the night, he threw up and choked to death on his own vomit. Bobby had heard Darryl’s mom say it was a fitting end and he deserved to go like that. Bobby never understood why, but Darryl really missed his dad. Even though Darryl used to constantly have new bruises from his father, he continually talked about the good times they had, choosing to forget the shitty ones.
Bobby’s dad never put a finger on him that he could remember, but he hated his dad. Hated him for leaving his mom and leaving Bobby to grow up with no father.
“I can’t believe you went through with it, Bobby. I thought for sure you’d chicken shit out on me like usual.”
“Not this time, man,” Bobby said with the crackly voice of a boy just hitting his stride with puberty. “Where’re we going anyway?”
“Just over there,” he said, pointing toward a small clump of trees.
A few minutes later, the teenagers were standing under a group of overgrown trees looking out at a fog-covered field that disappeared into the darkness.
“What are we doing here?” Bobby asked.
Darryl largely ignored the question as he swung his backpack around and set it down at his feet. He unzipped and rifled through the bag before pulling a handful of supplies out and laying them on the ground. Darryl sat and began unraveling a spool of fishing line. “You know what this place is, Bobby?”
Bobby looked around before sitting next to Darryl. “Not really.” Bobby continued looking into the dark when a gust of wind marched through, clearing away a thin layer of fog. As far as Bobby could see, small tombstones jutted from the ground. “A cemetery?”
“Pretty good,” Darryl said. He grabbed a large set of scissors and pointed them at Bobby. “It is a cemetery. The largest burial ground in the world, in fact.” He snipped off a long piece of fishing line. “And do you know what else is here?” he said again, pointing the scissors toward Bobby. His voice had an edge to it that Bobby had never heard before. The tone sent a shiver rippling down his spine.
Bobby squirmed in the dirt before shaking his head and swallowing the lump in his throat.
“I’m gonna show you.” Darryl then pulled a large hunting knife out of his bag.
Bobby jumped to his feet. “Holy shit, Darryl. What’s that for?”
“I’ll show you that too,” Darryl said, grabbing Bobby’s ankle and pulling his foot from under him, causing him to slam back down to the ground. “Just relax, Bobby ol’ pal. This isn’t for you,” he said pointing the knife at him.
Bobby’s pulse hammered in his ears and he froze with fear. Darryl let go of Bobby’s ankle and pulled the front of his shirt up to reveal several old scars and a few fresh wounds. Bobby tried to scramble away but Darryl grabbed his ankle again. “Hang on. You can’t go anywhere yet.”
Bobby kicked and screamed, trying to shake Darryl’s grip but the other boy was much stronger and Bobby couldn’t get loose. “Don’t hurt me, man!”
Darryl stabbed the knife into the ground next to Bobby’s leg. “Hurt you? You’re my friend, I wouldn’t hurt you. I just want to show you something. Me and my dad used to do this all the time. It just stings for a minute.”
Bobby stopped struggling and Darryl released his leg before snatching the knife out of the ground. He again lifted his shirt and pressed the blade to his skin. He pinched a fold of skin, pulling it up before slicing off the fatty chunk. Darryl held up the hunk of flesh before reaching into his backpack again. Bobby’s stomach turned on itself and he thought he was going to heave, but he swallowed it down as Darryl shoved a fishing hook through the piece of meat. Darryl then tied one end of the line to the hook and got to his feet.
He gathered the rest of the line, leaving the hook dangling several inches from his hand, and swung the baited hook in circles before releasing it out into the graveyard. A grin crept onto his face and Bobby squeezed his eyes tight, hoping when he opened them, he’d be in his bed and this had all been some crazy dream. When he opened them though, not only was it not a dream, but someone else was standing next to Darryl.
Darryl and a shadowy figure focused intently on the darkness, the fishing line held in Darryl’s fingertips while the ominous stranger held still at his side. “I think we got one, Dad.” Darryl said.
A moment later, Darryl yanked his hand back and a gust of foul wind stormed through the area. Bobby got to his feet and turned to run but something grabbed him by the arm. Bobby tried to shake free but was unable to get out of the invisible grip. Whatever it was that had him, was dragging him back to where Darryl was trying to drag the line in.
“We got one, Bobby. Wait ’til you see this!”
Bobby continued struggling to break free but couldn’t. He was held in place while Darryl hooted and hollered, fighting something that was struggling at the end of the line. Shrieking came from the darkness followed by what sounded like a screaming woman. Bobby was released but found himself captivated by what was happening.
“Almost got it, man. Check it out. Get over here!”
Darryl’s focus was entirely on whatever he was dragging to them. Another gust of wind blew through and Bobby’s brain couldn’t comprehend what his eyes were seeing. At the end of the line, flopping like a fish that had just been pulled from the water and dropped onto the ground, was a horribly decomposed woman’s body.
“Woohoo! Look at this one, Dad!” Darryl yelled as the thing screeched and tried to crawl back into the darkness.
The silhouette next to Darryl floated erratically in the space around Darryl, floating in the sky like a kite in the wind.
Bobby looked back to the thing at the end of the line. Its flesh was mostly gone, and what remained was tattered and torn. Sinew and bone glistened in the sporadic moonlight as clouds drifted overhead, intermittently drowning the full moon’s light.
Once the thing had been brought close enough, Darryl grabbed the hunting knife from its sheath at his waistband and plunged it into what remained of the woman’s skull. Its struggle ended instantly and the figure that Darryl had called Dad settled down next to him, one of its wispy arms settling onto Darryl’s shoulder.
Darryl turned to Bobby with a look of complete satisfaction and elation. “Did you see that? She was a whopper wasn’t she, Bobby?”
Bobby hesitated for a second, studying Darryl’s look of complete joy and for the first time, he saw the face of the figure. He’d only seen Darryl’s dad a few times, but the face was unmistakable. It was twisted into a malevolent yet proud smile. Something inside Bobby made him forget the hideousness of what he just witnessed. The sense of accomplishment on Darryl’s face, the look of pride in Darryl’s dad’s decayed face, it brought something out inside of Bobby that he hadn’t felt since his dad left.
“Whaddya think, man? You wanna give it a try?” Darryl said, wiping the gore from the knife and holding it out to Bobby.
Bobby missed his dad but never realized how much until he saw the happiness at that moment between Darryl and his dead father.
A tear escaped down Bobby’s cheek as he reached out to take the blade from Darryl. An owl hooted in the distance as Darryl’s dad danced around the two boys, filling both boys with a sense of pride.
“Go on, Bobby. Do it,” Darryl said before socking Bobby in the arm again. “Don’t be a pussy.”
Bobby grinned, lifted his shirt, and tucked it under his chin before pinching a good hunk of meat between his fingers. “Screw you, Darryl. You’re the only pussy around here,” he said before slicing off the bit of flesh.
~ Craig McGray
© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.
He didn’t much like his new job. He liked working with the old man even less.
Not because the old man’s pores leaked bourbon and unfulfilled aspirations each morning; he could tolerate that. No, it was because he was the low man on the totem pole, and the old man was a downright hard-ass about it.
The old man blurted, “Got another one,” then resumed whistling the tune he’d started a mile back down the road.
He didn’t know how the old man did it, how he could spot the strays so quickly. He tried and tried but just couldn’t. All he could see was the pitted road that bumped them along, an endless stretch exiled from the interstate; lonely fields, crusty with frost. Grey clouds smothered both of them, greedy in their need to devour the sky. The kid wrung his hands. In spite of himself, he asked, “How do you know?”
“Know? I don’t, kid. I feel.”
The kid glanced at Orleans. The yard called him that, Orleans; the old man loved himself his blues. “Feel what?”
From Orleans’ mouth popped a half-strangled burp. It stunk of last night’s bottle. “Once you get to doin’ what I been doin’ for so long, you just feel it.” Eyes pulled from the road, he stared hard at the kid. Just stared, his gospel fiery in his eyes.
The kid nodded, squinting through the dust-streaked windshield, searching again for what only Orleans seemed to feel; he rubbed the skin atop his hands raw. Over divots and forgotten stone, Orleans guided the pickup. He eased off the gas.
The kid bit down on his tongue, the question where on the tip of it. But as Orleans steered through the curve, he finally saw what the other man felt and wished he hadn’t.
The kid only viewed one of them. The rest of the strays, they were somewhere, somewhere off in the village that was part of the township, but not. The township no longer recognized the village; the township no longer claimed the village as its own.
The township only dealt with the strays along the road.
Orleans pulled to a stop. They sat, the blues oozing from Orleans’ skin. Expectation thickened the air between them. “Well?”
The kid turned. “Well what?”
“Well are you goin’ to get the fuck out and take care of it?”
“Me? Why does it need to be me?”
The kid chewed his bottom lip. “Look, Orleans -”
“Look my ass, you’re takin’ care of this. It’s the way it goes, kid. I drive, you do the dirty work. My days of scapin’ roadkill are long, long over.”
A sigh, then: “I know that, Orleans, it’s just that I’m not as good as you.”
“Sweet Jesus, Mary and motherfuckin’ Moses! Bein’ good has nothin’ to do with it, kid. You do it. And the more you do it, the better you get. Practice, kid. It’s called practice.”
Practice…but no one in the yard ever mentioned anything about practice. When his pop got him the job at the department of public works, he thought his days would consist of honest work, barrels of trash and recyclables heaved into the hopper of a garbage truck. Picking litter up from curbside, maybe; filling potholes under a blazing summer sun. But the strays? No, he never thought for a moment he’d be out handling the strays duty with Orleans. Truth was, he’d never exactly known who disposed of the strays.
Once hired, he knew.
“Still don’t understand why the troopers don’t take care of this. Why they -”
“Cause they don’t, kid. Once the troopers acknowledge the strays, then they acknowledge a problem. We don’t want that. You see what I’m sayin’?”
“So it’s us.”
Orleans pursed his lips. “It’s us, kid.”
Another sigh, this one dredging the bottom of his lungs. The kid leaned, retrieving the work gloves lying by his boots. He pulled them on, face wrinkled with unbearable worry. A chimney smoke laced breeze whistled in as he opened the door. Orleans grabbed his arm before he left.
“Practice, kid. That’s all it is. I was no different from you once. Wide eyed, a little scared. But I got used to it. No different from wipin’ your ass. Strays ain’t goin’ nowhere, kid, get used to that. Meantime, we got to figure out who can do my job. I can’t do it forever.”
“Why not leave them to rot along the road? No one comes out here. Just the northerners if they make a wrong turn.”
“It’s the order of things, kid. It’s the way it’s done. We’re civil folk.” Orleans jerked a thumb towards the tree line. “But they’re animals. They don’t think like we do. Just fuck and multiply, that’s it. Now there’s too many, and if a few get hit crossin’ the road, well, we need to play our part. Now get out there, kid. Get out and scrape up that mess. You ask too many questions, anyhow.”
The kid did as he was told; he took the shovel from the pickup bed. Through his gloves, the cold of the shovel seeped into his hands. He crossed the front of the pickup, eyes jumping in his head. From behind the wheel, Orleans nodded, prodding him forward.
The sky collapsed upon him, laden with snow, at most a few hours off. It bit into his bones. He drew the collar of his flannel coat to his neck. He imagined his bed, the warmth of his thick quilt. But those thoughts were of little use now. So the kid walked, gravel crunching under the soles of his boots.
After paces, many paces, the kid saw it – shadowed, immobile – the stray, no more a pall heap along the road. He wanted to stop, to run back, but he could feel Orleans boring holes into the back of his head. Slowly, he pressed on.
When he was much younger, his mom and pop warned him about the strays, warned him about their ways, their village of twine and straw. Now here he was.
And the stray, it lay mere feet away.
The kid approached, pushed his shovel under it, the harsh grate of metal on rock making his asshole clench. But he was unable to scoop it. He tried again; the prone body just flopped to its side. “Shit.” The kid fought back tears. He glanced back at Orleans; the old man grew agitated, waved his hands. The kid took a breath. “Practice. That’s all I have to do.”
He got his back into it this time, but the weight of the stray within the shovel’s pan startled him; it was deceivingly heavy. The body tumbled.
With the back of his glove, the kid wiped his mouth. Practice, dammit. He looked to Orleans again, seeking approval for his determination. The old man remained a flurry of hands. Strange. The kid didn’t understand. Then he turned.
They emerged from the tree line, skin slick with the frost that coated the grass. Even from the distance, the kid could see their limbs shivering, the shudder of muscle beneath their vitiligo-spotted flesh. Set low upon their haunches, they fanned out in groups of three; groups of three here, groups of three there.
It came out as a hoarse whisper. The kid could barely talk. He watched while, indifferent to the grey canopy of morning, the strays advanced without trepidation, a trait so wrong from anything he’d ever been told.
A melody now, trancelike in its progression. The kid opened his mouth, still unable to articulate words. Movement distracting his attention from the strays; the body at his feet was not so prone anymore. It pushed itself to its side, rearing its head back, an oblong aberration set upon a thick stalk. It peered through tearing, membrane sheeted eyes. A needled tongue lolled as it sang. “Orleansss…you tell Missstaaa Orleansss…he take oursss from oursss all the time…yeah he take oursss from oursss all the time…now we take yoursss from yoursss oh yeah… take yoursss from yoursss we gonna dine…”
The kid should’ve slammed the shovel atop the stray’s head. Should’ve…but lack of experience left him ill prepared. Instead, he dropped it and turned on his heel. But Orleans had already thrown the pickup into reverse, a gravel infused cloud erupting from the rear tires like a bomb blast. The kid understood.
He understood why the old man’s love of the blues preceded him. Understood why Orleans couldn’t do the dirty work forever.
“Yoursss from yoursss, we gonna dine and dine…”
Orleans was a speck down the road. The kid’s boots still hammered the broken pavement, though. His feet ached under the morning half-light, but the strays squeezed the road from both sides, their needy gait worse than their appearance. The kid thought he heard some blues whistled from another tongue mutated a longtime before. The kid laughed, wondering who Orleans might choose next to do his job.
The kid laughed and laughed; he laughed until he cried.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2015 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.