For three hours, I’ve been chasing the Swindler through deserted neighborhoods, past charred remains of houses and finally into the ruins of what once was an elementary school.
I’m still pissed at myself for missing my initial shot. If I had made it, I wouldn’t have had to chase it here.
And it wouldn’t have killed my hunting partners, Myers and Dixon.
The Swindler ran into the last classroom at the end of the hall on the right, its claws scurrying along the tiled floors. Crouching at the hallway’s only opening, I radio for some backup, hoping my squad isn’t too far away.
Down the hall, the Swindler begins growling and snarling, daring me to come in after it.
Even with my gun, these fuckers are tough to kill one on one. They have a mental power that acts as a defense mechanism, if you allow yourself to be compromised. Somehow they are able to make you see them as something they are not. In other words, they play a trick on your senses.
And your sanity.
If it compromises you and you’re in a confined space, like one of these classrooms, the odds are not in your favor. I’ve seen too many less experienced hunters lose their lives this way.
Heavy boots climbing the stairs echo throughout the derelict building. Relief washes through me as I hear them. The Swindler hears them too and stops thrashing about.
Fleming rounds the corner, weapon drawn.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I nod and reply, “There’s only one and it’s in the last classroom on the right.”
“Myers and Dixon?”
I shake my head.
Fleming grinds his teeth. “Let’s get this motherfucker.”
Checking to make sure my weapon is loaded, I make my way down the hall with Fleming close behind.
We enter the room.
Old desks with plastic chairs bolted to rusty bars are strewn about the room. A chalkboard covers the entire front of the room, graffiti covering almost every inch of it. Faded posters still hanging on the walls flutter gently as a slight draft cuts through the room.
In the middle of the floor, the Swindler sits cross legged with its face buried in its three fingered hands. Sporadic patches of hair decorate its scabbed and grey skin.
It looks up at Fleming and he lowers his weapon.
“Jesus…” he says. “It’s just a kid…” His voice trails off.
The Swindler looks over at me with reflective blue eyes.
For a split second, the Swindler’s face disappears, replaced by that of a boy.
I pull the trigger.
The head explodes spraying blood, bone and grey matter onto the nearby desks and chalkboard. Fleming flinches as the body slumps back and then looks over at me, horror dawning on his face.
“Oh my god, Redcliff,” he says, with his lower lip quivering. “It was just a boy… no older than ten.”
Fleming drops to his knees, letting his weapon fall to the floor. I kneel next to him, placing my hand on his shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” I say to him. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
The rest of the squad arrives and the medic takes over as he begins to assess Fleming. I stand up, nodding to the group that there’s a body to be burned.
My second-in-command, Gilbert, hands me a canteen of water. The water is cool and refreshing.
“What happened in there?” Gilbert asks.
“Fleming got compromised,” I reply.
We leave the classroom and make our way back toward the stairs.
“Even if Fleming is cleared by the medical team,” I say, “his days of hunting are over. He’s too much a liability now.”
“Understood, sir,” Gilbert replies.
Once outside, I take in a deep breath of fresh air and begin to feel better. How many more hunts do I have left in me?
After a few minutes, I watch as the Swindler’s body is dragged outside. It is laid in the middle of the cracked and neglected road. After a few kicks of frustration from my men, the body is lit on fire.
I can still see that brief flash of a boy’s face.
It wasn’t the first time I was almost compromised.
The flames dance and swirl over the corpse.
It probably won’t be the last either.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
The child I loved hung me on the wall and didn’t look back. Doors slammed and the house settled into endless night. Then one day the handle twisted and rattled, and the door slowly creaked open. Footsteps crept on the dusty floorboards. A dark shadow moved around the room. We were terrified at first; was it a ghost? The house had been deserted for one week or maybe one hundred years; I never understood human time. In any case, it felt like an eternity since we had seen a child, an eternity of loneliness and silence and never being touched.
The dark shadow moved to the window and pulled back the tattered curtains. A burst of sunlight flooded the room.
It was a pretty thing with long blonde braids dressed in strange boyish attire. She stared around the room, amazed by the collection of old toys in the attic. I know how precious the first few moments between a toy and a child are. I had to be the first one to catch her eye if I had any chance of getting out of there, any chance of ever dancing again.
I focused all of my energy on her. She looked up and saw me, hanging gracelessly, head flopped to the side, my pretty dress brown with age. I sent her a vision of my lace skirts twirling as I danced in a beam of light. I was a professional once, working the stage before adoring crowds. Agile and masterful hands directed my strings, maneuvered me perfectly. Those hands understood me and filled me with life although they also filled me with dread.
I made the little girl imagine she held my strings as I dipped and hopped. She smiled up at me. To bring her closer, to make her reach up and touch me…
The girl took a step forward before a harsh voice echoed from downstairs.
“Amelia! Amelia, where are you?”
She froze in fear then quickly left the room closing the door carefully behind her.
The commotion downstairs went on for days as the new family moved in. The toys in the attic grew restless and excited. We would be discovered again. Maybe some of us would be taken into a colourful playroom, we thought. Maybe we would have picnics in the garden or be taken down to the seashore once more. I waited patiently and a strange sensation grew in me. I realised it was hope. I kept calling her name and I knew Amelia would return.
I love the sea. The circling gulls, the fierce wind, the crash of the waves. The sea is nearby the house and the little girl who owned me before used to take me there all the time. I should have used her when I had the chance; after all her sweet talk and tea parties she left me to rot when she moved away.
She would sit me in the sand and I would stare unblinking into the sun as she built sandcastles. I longed to walk and explore, not manipulated by strings but by my own free will.
I remember my master, he who made me, but I try not to think of him. He was a possessive and neurotic man who made me work for hours on end until I grew dizzy and faint. The curtains would finally draw closed, the cheering of children ringing in my ears as I collapsed in an exhausted heap. Day after day, often twice a day, I danced. I was locked up in a velvet-lined box and taken out only for performances. But it is thanks to him that I have the power I do; when he passed away I inherited his magic. On his deathbed, he clutched me in fear and sadness; coarse fingers traced the cold curves of my porcelain face, tears in his blind eyes. Then with shaking hands, he pushed me back into my box. I heard the lock click and I was terrified, believing I would never be taken out again.
Eventually, after lifetimes of darkness, the box was opened. The little girl who carefully lifted me out had my master’s eyes. His blood flowed through her veins, I could tell. Her little fingers had the same talent and she knew how to work my strings beautifully. I danced again but not without bitterness in my heart. Then she too betrayed me, left me hanging in the attic and disappeared, and I felt my plush stuffing turn to cruel cold stone.
Amelia crept into the attic late one night, not long after our first meeting. Balancing on an old chair, she carefully unhooked me from the wall. She carried me down to her bedroom where she sat me proudly on her dresser.
She got back under her covers and gazed at me in wonder. My dainty red painted lips smiled at her, my black glass eyes twinkled in the night. I blinked at her with long stiff lashes. I was so elated she had come to collect me. The magic was working. We gazed at each other until her eyes slowly closed and she drifted off to sleep.
I met her in her dreams. It was snowing there, perfect snowflakes drifted around us. We held hands and giggled as we spun in circles. For a moment, we couldn’t tell which one of us was the doll and which was the little girl. That made us laugh hysterically and we spun faster and faster until we tumbled in the snow.
After that, we spent every day together; she took me everywhere. She carried me around carefully so as not to tangle my strings, and she never put me in a box. Her feelings for me grew, forming that mysterious bond between child and toy. And so did my power, for it was the bond that fueled my magic. Nothing is more powerful than the genuine and pure love of a child, and she gave it to me willingly.
I always had pride of place on her dresser, glaring down at the plain and ugly toys that littered her bedroom floor. Dreadful tawdry things. I am one of a kind, handcrafted with a ceramic head, hands and feet; my soft torso is made of quality cotton, my features beautifully painted.
For weeks, I sat and watched her sleep, entering her dream world where we played together for hours. Nothing separated us. Little by little, her energy was becoming mine.
In her dreams, I showed her what to do, how to become limp and lifeless; empty. Soon it was I who danced, free and exhilarated, while she slumped in a dark corner, her eyes wide and blank. In the morning, she woke terrified, feeling drained without knowing why.
All night long, I chanted the spell that lulled her spirit into my form. I was coming to life. I began to feel a tingle in my toes and fingertips, a whirling in my belly.
Amelia grew more weak and frail. She dozed in bed most of the time so I could enter her mind and dance there during the day as well. But her parents were getting worried and began to interfere. They took her to visit the doctor; they took her out to do things, leaving me behind. They kept stuffing her with food hoping it would regain her strength. I had to work faster; they were getting too meddlesome.
I put one final image in Amelia’s mind – a gentle ocean, the sky an innocent baby blue, a stretch of golden sand. The next morning she told her mother she felt much better and was going for a walk down to the beach.
Amelia propped me in the hot sand. It was a perfect sunny day. I watched as she applied greasy sunscreen to her thin legs. To be honest, and to my surprise, I felt a little sad. A pang of bitterness and loneliness overcame me. Will anyone ever love me and take care of me forever, never to leave me behind, used and forgotten? The bright glare of the sun was hurting my eyes and the sand tickled my skin; my senses had awakened, and it was too late to turn back.
Amelia hummed to herself; she seemed almost content but I could sense her anxiety. The past few weeks had confused and frightened her; she knew something was happening but she didn’t understand what.
For a few moments, we sat together and stared at the rolling ocean and the bright horizon. Then she rose and walked slowly towards the waves.
I began to utter my spell for the last time. If I could manifest tears, a single drop may have run down my face.
The waves grew higher as I chanted, the ocean responding to my malevolent intent. Amelia hovered at the edge, the tide rolled in quickly, flooding around her ankles. I felt her little heart begin to race, her mind clouded with confusion. She walked further in.
Waves crashed over her head, pulling her under. She called out, a faint cry smothered by the roar of the sea. I watched her rise on the waves then sink again, her arms waving helplessly, her voice silenced by mouthfuls of water.
It took a few minutes as she struggled. Hungrily I sucked in her energy, my desire to live greater than hers. Her life force flowed to me as it drained from her, our bond complete. I felt myself truly come to life. I could feel my arms and legs. I touched my body, a strange sensation. My lips opened and a giggle escaped.
Ecstatic, I tore off my strings. It hurt as they ripped from my limbs.
I stood up carefully. In the distance, I could see Amelia’s floating body, another child lost to the magic of the toy kingdom. The waves had calmed; all was quiet except for a single gull that shrieked in the sky.
I began to walk, one foot in front of the other, just as I had been taught to do but this time nobody was controlling me and nobody ever would again.
I marveled at the tiny prints my ceramic feet made, proof that I exist.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Ahhh Damnlings, into our realm of darkness you have wandered once more. A realm where words twist on the wind, and morals gain no purchase…
In the collection of prose set forth before you, you will find each of the authors has been constrained to a measure of one hundred to one hundred fifty words; two of which must be borrowed from the nether’s uttering. But fear not, for the Damned wear our shackles well and true – we shrink from no challenge. Sit, read, perhaps ponder… which two of the five words on offer would you chose to sacrifice for a story worthy of the ink that drips from the Pen of the Damned?
Why a sacrifice? You will never hear them Echoed again!
My Mind Screams
My old fishing boat, the Extant, rocks unsteady beneath my feet. I struggle to catch my breath — difficult after stealing something else’s last. Blood runs down the wrench in my hand, dropping off onto the floor already wet from the carcass curled against the wall. Even in the dim cabin light, I am repulsed by this abomination of nature; the unnatural pulled up from the depths in my fishing net. Its skin glistens, almost amphibious, but completely alien. Somewhere in the mass of flesh, bone and gore are its eyes; black, unemotional and lifeless. My mind screams, unable to comprehend the events that transpired. Grabbing a spare gas can, I douse the body. With a flick of my lighter, the ungodly is engulfed – burning its existence from my mind.
Lee A. Forman
Bound to a chair in the center of a dark room I sit. Countless eyes stare, their yellow glow peering through thin slits in the ebony veil which encircles me. Hope of escape—fleeting, lost; I try to focus on the steady drip of rainwater from the ceiling, the only thing keeping me extant.
They blink in the hushed air, each subtle movement accompanied by a soft squish—a sound not human. I don’t know what beasts hide in the shadowy corners of this strange and unfamiliar chamber. I have yet to see them. Even their shape is a mystery.
Only thing I am aware of is their hunger. They reek of it. I don’t know how long it will be until they tear into me and begin to feast. But from the stench of their breath, I know it will be soon.
“….. no interim procedure for eradicating ……”
Dr. Livingston’s eyes glided numbly over the words. She liked simplicity, and this pretentious document could have been reduced to a few sentences. The cell-repairing microbes they created to combat the aging process mutated shortly after they were introduced to the general population. The Guardian Strain became a pandemic.
She looked at her bloody hands. As with millions of other infected, the cellular walls of her organs bloated with the infection, swelling with puss and blood before splitting open like roadkill in the heat.
Dr. Livingston touched the package her colleague sent, her sausage-like fingers leaving a trail of smelly ichor across the box. The blood-stained note was written in shaky handwriting.
Her trembling hand reached up and placed the only cure into her mouth. Ironically, the treatment did in fact come from a shot, she thought as she squeezed the trigger.
“There. You see it, now? You see?”
Indeed, I did. One of only two extant copies known to man. There it lay beneath the glass. “How did you gain such a—”
He waved me off. “Does it matter?” sucking on his Gurkha Black Dragon, appreciating the white tendrils curling round the cigar’s tip. “What matters is that I have it. What matters is that it can be yours…if you’ve acquired its cost.”
“I have.” I knew my associate’s fondness for cigars. I knew his affinity for a virgin’s eyes even more. I handed over my satchel, his fee exquisitely stored inside. He parted his mouth; the peppery finish of his cigar wafted, tickling my nose. Then he pitched forward, the strain I had swabbed along his cigar’s head seizing his heart.
I took my priceless manuscript. I took back the sightless eyes.
I left him to his cigar.
I noticed the church while driving through drab countryside. I pulled over to look around. I was surprised by the age of the building, the yellow sandstone was coated with moss, crumbling grey headstones littered the churchyard. The wooden doors were locked but I managed to wrench them open. Dim light shone through the small stained glass windows, the air was thick with dust. Slowly I walked the aisle, glancing around as my eyes adjusted. I froze suddenly, spotting the draped figure that stood before the altar. It wore a long dress with a tattered train of ghostly lace. I heard the sound of faint sobbing. It turned towards me. With hands of blackened skin it lifted its veil and fixed me with a rotten stare. The wailing began and I fell to my knees, struck by the bitter heartbreak only the dead can know.
I tried to tell him. My words started in a hasty shout, the syllables tripping over themselves as I shoved them past my chapped lips. It sounded all wrong. I couldn’t even recognize the words myself. Lack of water in these scorched days has left my mouth and throat so damned dry. With precious little time at hand, I strain, trying again, forcing my tacky tongue to dislodge and shape the sounds, yet it only rolls and twitches like a dying slug. The cold lightening of panic surges through me, lifting my heavy eyelids, raising my outstretched hands, but nothing can stop the downward arc of his weapon. The massive wrench is the last thing I see—stealing my sight on the first catastrophic blow. Warm blood wets my throat just enough for my plea to gain sound as everything fades to eternal darkness, “Not a Zombie”.
On the last day of summer, the dead rose from their rest in the earth. He watched from his treehouse while they emerged. Thin bone. Domed skulls. Clenched hands unfurling like flowers in the morning.
There was nothing hurried about their efforts. They staggered to their feet, stretched, shed old skin and loose soil. When his Action Man fell to the floorboards, he imagined he could hear the creak of their necks as they stared skyward.
It took them hours to climb the tree. Fingers without tips wrenched slugs of grey bark. He watched them until he couldn’t bear to watch them anymore then dragged himself and a blanket into the corner.
It was dark when they finally reached him. She had on a veil; black, backlit with luminescent eyes. Even as she crawled closer, he wondered where his parents were, and when they were going to rescue him.
Christopher A. Liccardi
In its extant, this was nothing new. It was strong though. It hadn’t been seen in ages not because it was weak, but because it was fast. This strain moved quicker than anything else they had ever seen.
“What are we going to do, Doctor Lee?”
Lee, an experienced viral biologist crushed what would probably be his final cigarette and stared though the haze of blue smoke. A pause…
“First, we die Janine. Then, we come back.”
“I don’t want to come back.”
“Actually, it’s as perfect as you could ever be. Complete harmony between the living and the dead. You’d be not alive, and yet mortally perfect. Besides, you don’t have much of a choice.”
“Do we have to drop it on the city?” Her voice quavered the slightest bit.
“We do but it won’t matter where you are in a few hours.”
Like the maelstrom that swept in her tide, she swirled with a tempest of fate. Those before her attempted to flee; begged forgiveness for their evils. Misunderstood lives, unappreciated deeds, this lot unaware the veil had thinned solely to allow their pardon. Gleaming ebony skin that smoldered of embers left to flame, she bore down upon them with brutality unknown to these worthy heathens. Necks twisted most unnatural, bodies rent of their companion cog and spokes, these children of misdirection now granted reward for actions unprovoked yet savored by that which waits. As claws struck and teeth ripped, screams wailed the song of souls unburdened. Mother to the immoral, sister of the dishonest, beacon for the misguided, she stilled as the slop of her task struck a final note. More would come, born of those who kneel in perverse fealty. In the interim, the void of silence stirred her home.
Each piece of fiction is the sole copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
They preferred the angry gnash of the storm over the silence.
Like nervous teeth, the panes chattered. The rafters creaked; dust floated down upon their heads.
The man—the man who had been taken in—spoke in a hoarse whisper. “I’ll go. I’ll do it. If it wasn’t for your family, I’d still be out there. Or worse.”
No one answered. No one argued his point, either. Finally, the father spoke. “The shed is about twenty yards back. It’s unlocked.”
The man massaged his crooked chin. “Door swing in or out?”
The father believed it was a good question to ask; this man was sharp. Pride swelled within him. It had been harrowing, but his family had done good, risking their wellbeing to drag the man in from the outside. But a pit burned the father’s stomach. The man had gotten lucky once. Luck would not prevail a second time. “In.”
“Long as the wind didn’t bang it open, I’m good.”
The father pressed his hand against the pane, its surface cooling his fever within. He could see nothing beyond the glass, however. “The generator is in the back, set on blocks. It should be deep enough into the shed to be protected. When you stand in front of it, look down to your right. The gas can will be there.”
The father felt his family press behind him. Mother’s face stooped lower than the boughs of the snow-laden trees. What remained of them, anyway. She clutched their children—son and daughter—under breasts that hadn’t been touched in years. “Yes.”
“Mm-hmm.” The man knew what that meant. The generator would power the house for another full day, at most. “I won’t allow your family to grow cold. I’ll fill it. When it runs out, we’ll figure out what’s next. Together.”
The man shrugged into his coat, careful not to worsen the tear along the shoulder seam. He tugged his wool hat until it hung low over his brow. He looked at the children, the souls-sucked-dry children. “Together,” the man repeated, not sure for whose benefit he’d said it, and cradled his rifle in his arm.
He reached for the door, but the father seized his hand. “Keep low. Don’t stop.”
The man grunted and was ready. The father twisted the knob. The wind shoved the door aside, and immediately the shrieking swallowed the man as well the snow, the blinding snow. The father threw his back into the door, snaring the blizzard’s icy tendrils in the jam. The storm howled; the panes rattled like tormented bones. “He’ll make it,” the father said, talking to the walls. “He’ll make it.”
The father watched as the man sunk thigh deep into the drift, watched and lost him to the white. The blizzard erased his footprints in one exhale. Then he waited. The minutes passed. “We needed him,” he said to the mother. “It could’ve been me instead.”
“It should have been you instead.”
He exhaled icy smoke, then chewed the inside of his mouth. He slowly turned around, keeping vigil at the pane. Snowflakes clung, mounting and growing ever deeper, white locusts of a great plague. Minutes. Minutes. Minutes passed.
“Gas can’s emptied by now.” The father visualized the man’s progress, the man’s steps. “Priming it…cranking it over…he knows what he’s doing…he knows…”
The children sniffled on the hardened snot clotting their noses. And their mother hugged them close to a heart that had long grown cold.
The father clutched the knob. Waiting. It vibrated in his hand. “Any minute.”
A gust charged the house, a mighty bull outside the walls. The rafters groaned; dust danced upon their heads; small, ghostly marionettes. “Any time now…”
He heard a distant crack. Another trunk snapping. Another tree succumbing to the storm. He thought of his neighbors, the elderly neighbors, for whom he’d once mowed their lawns. “Any…time…now…”
A spirit beckoned from the nether; the man emerged, white, spectral white, coat and hat and legs white, face and brow crusted in wind-driven snow. The rifle slung like a long ice shard over his shoulder. “I told you,” the father said, voice rising like the wind, “I told you!”
The man, mere feet from the door, polluted the drift with a crimson spray. The father jerked from the window as if struck. But his eyes stuck to the pane.
They swirled round the man, the needle teeth, the razor claws, unnatural piranhas of winter’s blight, tearing and cutting as the gale disguised their intentions. The wind kept the man upright, and the drift kept him mired. And they swirled, swirled till the man was no more.
The crimson spray disappeared, the drift a new blank canvas from which to paint. The man’s entrails clung briefly to the pane before slipping away.
He shuddered, the father did, but he would not cry. He covered his mouth. “We lost a good man.”
Then a loud click in the father’s ear. “We lost a good man,” the mother said, “and now we have none.”
The father felt the cold metal against the back of his head. It pushed forward, forcing him toward the door. “We have power now. When it runs out, we’ll figure out what’s next. Together,” the mother said to her children.
“You won’t survive without me.”
“Maybe not. But I sure as hell won’t die with you.”
The rifle burrowed into the base of his skull. He clutched the knob. He would freeze to death without a coat, without the proper clothes. He prayed that would be the best thing to come.
The father stumbled into the maw of the blizzard. It chewed him alive.
“There, there, my babies,” the mother cooed to her children, watching as their father filled the pane. “There, there.”
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2016 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.