The metamorphosis begins with the lick of first dew. As Mother’s milk rains down, do we not feel the fracture, the impending breach; do we not begin to break under her ever present gaze? To hold fast we strive, yet a fool’s errand that. Mother will have her way, with rod or lash; we will obey. Extruded beyond time, a limit reached, one gives way with a whispered screech of banshees yet unheard. For as the coil rips asunder, so does the edge tip; the ferry no longer granting safe passage, we no longer the guardians in Mother’s good grace.
And It Swings
Joseph A. Pinto
And it swings and it swings and it swings o’er your head, the links like your memory eroding with time. And you pray for the drop, do you not? And you pray for the final fall. And you have never been stronger than your weakest. And you refuse to look Death in the face. And all that you have lost still pains you. And all that you live is a lie. And you wonder how the gaps became so wide now. And you wonder who is really holding on at all.
And it swings and it swings and it swings.
Veronica Magenta Nero
For months he watched her. The daily pattern of her life was his obsession. He studied her like a jigsaw puzzle, carefully fitting every piece in perfect place until the picture of who she was formed clearly in his mind. The time had finally come. To make his move. When he stepped out from the shadows onto her path he couldn’t have predicted her response. His plan was flawless, meticulous, he thought to himself as he choked and clutched his wet throat. She was the broken link. More twisted than he. She smiled as she drove the knife deeper in.
Will They Follow?
Crows caw as my encased body sways above the ground. Weakly, I open my eyes, greeted by a familiar and featureless landscape. For four days now, this has been my view. The rusty chain holding my support post creaks, weakening in the bleak sun, threatening to break at any moment. Around me the crows circle impatiently; their caws urging me to die. Soon, once the chain breaks, I will do as they wish. Below is the large pit, the bottom of which I cannot see; where those who came before me now lie. Will the crows follow me down there?
Lee A. Forman
Does it know? Can it even see?
The absence of eyes leads her to think not.
She watches as the humanoid form scuttles close to the wall, its black featureless head tilting at odd angles. Insectile clicks echo in the dank cellar as it moves fingerless hands along the wall.
It makes her think of Grandpa—and how the cancer ate him alive. He always said it was the creature that gave it to him.
She watches the broken link as it pulls the chain tight. Her hands begin to shake.
How long did he think that chain would last?
Christopher A. Liccardi
Hanging, literally by a thread, my doom awaited. It swung, like luck, over me without remorse. I smiled at it.
My existence had been this fragile before and I’d survived. Would it be so again? Would the fates conceded the point and let me live? It was nothing to dwell upon. I would either make the trip across the rusted steel or I would plummet to my well-deserved end. Either way, forward was my direction. My prize wait on the other side and all I needed to do was make it past that final rusted link, the weakest link.
A Lunch to Remember
He had endured years of brutal teasing at the construction site. His coworkers were a bunch of knuckle dragging bastards, grownup versions of the little bastards that had taunted him throughout school. He looked down at the crew eating lunch directly below him.
He stood at the edge of the I-beam, tightened the rope around his neck, and stepped off. The ground rushed up. He knew his full bowels would let loose, his speed would pop his head off, and the last thing they would get from him would be his laughter, following by his shit, blood, and eternal hatred.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Rush stood, paralyzed.
All the muscles in his body had gone slack. His gun was drawn, but it was so much useless metal in his hand.
The flashlight had fallen when the old man touched him; it rolled along the floor at his feet in a lazy arcing motion that mocked the fear he was now feeling. The light reflected jaunty shadows in front of his eyes and he wanted to scream, but could not.
“I’ve been waiting for you Detective. I thought you would come back, that you would come to see the exhibit,” the old man said. His accent was heavier now than it had been. “Why are you really here? I have a guess but then again, you don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two about the predictability of humans.”
Rush tried to remember his training, to remember the things they taught at the academy. All his cop bravado left him. He was at the mercy of the old man lurking in the shadows.
“I could let you talk, but I don’t know how much it would change things. You have questions young man. I can see them on your lips, but the answers don’t matter, not really.” he said.
Rush could hear the gloating satisfaction in his voice. It was the same sardonic sound he heard in court months ago. Rush had wanted to hit him then, too. He tried to tighten the finger that lay on the trigger of his gun, but nothing happened.
“Let me guess a few, shall I? After all, we’re in no great hurry here. Your department doesn’t even know you’ve returned, do they?” he asked. “You want the truth, am I right? You want to know the how and the why.” The old man was moving around behind him; Rush could hear him but still couldn’t see anything more than a shadow.
“Possibly you wanted to come return all the property you took during the trial? You came here to give back my things, my tools, and you happened to wander in to the workshop because you couldn’t find me upstairs with the rest of the old relics.
“I don’t see any of my things here, Detective so you must be here for answers.”
The old man shuffled into the light. He walked the distance between them with the same hunched-over waddle he had before. He stepped in front of Rush and straightened with an effort.
“I am going to let you speak, for now,” the old man said and touched Rush’s throat.
“What the hell did you do to me, old man?” Rush belched out in a roar; every other muscle in his body useless.
The old man tottered a bit, then crumpled back into his hunched posture and stepped back from the detective. He looked frail, battered and too old to be a murderer.
“My family has been doing this for a very long time, Detective, and we’ve gotten exceedingly good at it. In fact, you are the first person to come so close to guessing the truth about what we do in over a century.”
This man was a direct descendant of the exhibits creator, Marie, but to Rush, he looked like any other murderer.
The old man looked up at Rush and smiled.
“What have you done to me, scumbag?” Rush bellowed again. He could think of nothing else to say. All the questions about the victims and the wax statues were gone.
“Come now, Detective! Let’s not resort to the vulgar just yet. I have so much to show you.” He smiled again and Rush tried to cringe back. The old man seemed to have too many teeth.
“What did you do to me?” Rush demanded. He was scared now on some deep and childish level that he didn’t understand.
The man stepped a bit closer and took the gun from his hand. He placed it on a table near the two of them and turned back.
“You can have it back when I am finished. I’m afraid the bullets wouldn’t agree with me,” he said.
“Don’t touch me!” Rush spat out.
“I’d like to say that everything will work out for you when I am done, but that isn’t likely. I doubt anyone will fuss over a police officer gone missing after such an embarrassing moment in the spotlight.” The old man took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
Rush watched as the man reached up again. He paused, his finger looming an inch from Rush’s face. He looked like a man contemplating some monumental decision.
He touched Rush on the cheek under his left eye and the color began to drain from his vision. His left eye dimmed and then was gone. He didn’t feel anything but picked up the slow movement on his cheek where the man had touched him. Something dribbled down his face. The old man reached up and plucked it off his cheek.
Rush began to scream when he realized it was his eyeball.
The old man touched his right cheek and laughed as the screaming doubled then morphed into the choking sound of hyperventilation.
“You see, Detective…” he started and then shook his head. “Actually, you can’t see so I’ll describe it to you. I’ve gotten rid of your eyes because we won’t need them. I shall give you new ones when I am done.” The old man stepped up to Rush and plucked the right eye off as it rolled down his stubble covered face, then tossed both orbs onto the floor.
“It’s customary to remove the eyes from the exhibits as the trauma of watching your own death can cause… unexpected changes in skin tone and hair. You still have your ears so you can listen. I think it’s a fair trade for the tools and time you took from me during the investigation and trial,” the old man said, still polite, still smiling.
He reached up to Rush’s mouth and stuck his finger in.
Rush wanted to gag, but couldn’t move more than his throat. His tongue flopped out of his mouth mid scream. Blood and saliva spilled down the front of him.
“Detective Rush, I will be doing something that you may consider rather gruesome, but I assure you it’s necessary. When it begins, you are going to feel nothing, but I promise it won’t end that way. Sometimes I can still hear them screaming a day or two after but not every time,” the man said.
Rush fought his paralysis as hard as he could, forcing his will against every nerve and muscle but his body would not respond. He could smell his own fear now.
“The last thing we need to do before we can continue, Detective, is to remove your clothing and have everything cleaned and pressed. Undoubtedly you will spoil yourself and that won’t do. I assure you though, you will look as professional and well dressed as any officer of the law in this fine city,” the man said with an air of perfectionist pride.
The fear finally shattered his resolve. Rush felt his bladder let go. Bile crept in to his mouth and he vomited. He was going to die at the hands of this monster.
“We’ve come so far since you kicked in the door of my home and the museum. Your meddling almost cost me everything, Detective, and I think it’s only fair to tell you the entire truth as we proceed,” he said.
Rush could hear the sound of something on wheels being moved across the room. It mocked the same waddling gait the old man had when he walked.
“You were so much closer to the truth than you ever realized.” The sound of metal on metal filtered in through Rush’s panic. He could hear things that sounded sharp and painful.
“I used to embalm my exhibits after ending their lives, but I’ve found a way to do it while the subject is still breathing. It’s a bit more painful but in the end, it gives each of you a more life-like feel. Now, I am going to place a needle in your arm. You won’t feel the pinch but the rest, well, you’ll see.”
Rush felt something in his arm where the old man had touched him. It was pressure at first, but the pain that followed was immediate. Rush began to scream again as the old man touched his throat, the scream cut off; Rush passed out.
“…and this is our newest and most popular exhibit. The curator calls this ‘New York’s Finest‘ and will feature the men and women in uniform from all over The Big Apple.”
Rush heard the pleasant female voice pass and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. The realization of what happened hit him and he tried to scream and thrash about. Nothing came out of his mouth; he couldn’t move.
The voices faded, as did the footsteps.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.
Letters and symbols vibrated on the screen—C# programming conditions that barely made sense to him anymore. Blinking, he tried to halt their rebellious dance, but each moment of blissful darkness brought Mel that much closer to involuntary shutdown. He’d never gone twenty-two hours straight before, nor beyond a ninety-hour work week, but here he was.
The clock in the lower corner reminded him that this sleep-deprived torture was far from over. 6:58AM. Brad’s Lexus would be parking across two visitor spaces out front by now. His entrance was always a whirlwind of douche-baggery.
Moments later, the boss stormed off the elevator, his briefcase swinging wildly as his heavy footfalls stopped at Sheryl’s desk. She looked up at him with half-squinted eyes, as if anticipating the full force of Brad’s backhand. Sheryl was new, only employed since the second quarter began, but she’d been around long enough to experience the worst. He must have something on her too, Mel thought as he peeked over the low cubical wall, otherwise why would she put up with this?
“Good morning, Sir,” she said.
“Don’t just sit there on your fat ass like you’re at home surfing Pinterest for your recipe wishlist, get me the latest shareholder’s report, the morning paper, and the status report for the Streamline project.”
Brad’s verbal barrage didn’t stop there. His demands and insults continued as he marched down the hall to his office, stopping for a moment as he reached his desk. He flopped the briefcase down, shaking the glass walls surrounding him, and sighed in a dramatic exhale. “For fuck’s sake, Sheryl. Where’s my double-espresso latte? You know I need it ready by 7AM.”
With an expletive of her own, she hurried off to the break room to fulfill his request.
Mel kept his head down, preparing himself for the inevitable summoning.
“Code-monkey,” Brad shouted. “Get in here.”
Mel rubbed his face in a brisk motion—trying to wipe the stress away—before shuffling into his bosses’ office. After squeezing into the chair Brad was crowding from his perch atop the desk, Mel stared down at his hands. Despite feeling cold and numb, as they usually did after long bouts of typing, they were sweating. Mel tucked his hands under his thighs for warmth just as Brad opened the discussion.
“How much farther did you get last night?”
“I scripted most of the control statements and I’m close to completing a prototype shell of the app, but as I said before we have to confirm the core attributes before—”
“We talked about this, Mel,” Brad said, tossing his hands. “Just get it done, we’re on a tight deadline.”
“I understand that, Sir. But, we cannot guarantee anything without—”
“Whoa! What the fuck, Mel? Don’t ever mention guarantees; they lead to lawsuits.” Brad punctuated his command with a sharp slap to the back of Mel’s skull.
The strike froze him for a moment; shoulders raised, eyes squinted, mouth half-agape in mid-syllable. Then Mel reset his posture with slow resignation—funneling all his frustration into a moment of gritted teeth that his dentist would surely complain about at his next appointment.
Unsheathing his hands, he offered them up in placation, hoping to dampen his boss’s fuse as he explained further. “Sorry, Sir. I hear what you’re saying, but without defining all the client specifics like intended application interaction or even required platform compatibility, we’re setting ourselves up for massive revisions. If I could only have a conversation directly with the client, I think—”
“No!” Brad shouted at him, thrusting a finger in his face. “Leave the thinking to me. I manage the clients. You do the programming. Got it?”
Sheryl bustled into the room and, with great care, placed a large cup of coffee on Brad’s desk behind them.
Brad turned and stared her down, annoyed eyes screaming about her ill-timed entrance. Taking his meaning, Sheryl slunk out of the room, visually cringing from the attention, but not before exchanging a quick glance of understanding with Mel.
Maintaining his ocular assault, Brad picked up the tall cup and sipped.
“Sheryl, dear?” he called after her.
“This is liquid-shit and you’re fired.” Despite Brad’s calm, Mel winced at the statement. Sheryl was a nice, intelligent woman. She didn’t deserve to be fired over coffee, let alone catering to mundane requests in the first place. The change of job might benefit her in the end, but it would still hurt. Sheryl had two daughters to care for and this salary was her only means of putting food in their fridge.
Sheryl’s mouth fell open, and before she turned away, Mel saw tears already streaming from her eyes. He clenched his fists. His cold fingers now pulsed with a swollen heat, the same sensation that stoked his gut with a churning energy.
“Mel,” Brad cooed, feigning compassion while he perched on the edge of his desk. “The project scope isn’t going to change until we show the prototype and we don’t have the budget for extensive revisions, so get it done and do it right the first time… am I understood?”
Mel seethed in silence—a furious bouncing of the right leg, white knuckled fists, and longer, deeper breathing.
“I needn’t remind you that my father owns Maven Digital Media. Your poor mother’s position might be eliminated if suggestions are made for leaner operations.”
The sound of Brad’s voice seemed distant behind the maddening rush of blood pulsing through Mel’s body. Accelerated breaths pressured out his nose like a show-prepped bull in Madrid’s main arena.
“Oh, and I talked to the client on the way in this morning.” Brad continued, leaning closer. “Due to competitive market pressures, I had to shorten the deadline by another week to keep them happy.”
Mel’s jaw cried out, threatening to strain muscles or chip teeth. The voice in the room was nearly washed out by the white-hot torrent surging through his mind. A rising growl started to form in his throat.
“…don’t care if you sleep under your desk, you’re going to—”
“Shut up!” Mel screamed, releasing the words at full volume. They reverberated off the office walls as Brad fell silent in their wake.
His boss phased through multiple emotions in a matter of seconds: from clenched anger, to confusion and finally landing on pale disbelief.
Mel watched him. What was he doing? Where was the predictable backlash?
Still emboldened from his rage, Mel prodded. “Well?”
His boss remained silent. Beads of sweat formed across his brow above an expression that Mel had never seen from him before. Still, no reply.
“Say something!” Mel conceded.
“Ghw-wha da fuck did you do to me?” Brad touched his throat and sucked air as if someone had been choking him.
“I couldn’t talk.” Brad explained, fumbling the words between breaths. “I—I tried but nothing came out. You did something to me. Did you poison my coffee?!”
Mel, more frustrated and confused than anything else, splayed his fingers incredulously.
“What? I didn’t do anything to you. I just told you to shut… up.” As the words fell from his mouth, a crazy, sleep-deprived thought popped into his head. No sane person would ever consider it to be possible, but sanity was a foreign state on days like this, in work environments like this.
Mel needed to know. Brad was still complaining, when Mel spoke again.
“Brad, be quiet please.” He said causally, barely audible over his boss’s ramblings—ramblings that suddenly halted.
Mel’s eyes popped wide. So did Brad’s.
“Grab your index finger in one hand,” Mel said, dishing an order that would irrefutably prove his illogical theory, “…and break it!”
His boss’s eyes somehow opened even wider as his right hand clasped his left index finger. While frantically shaking his head against his own actions, Brad bent his finger backward until there was an audible snap. A muffled cry leaked out of his sealed lips.
Mel shot to his feet—his chair toppling over backward—and clutched his head with both hands, as if to keep his mind contained; to keep it from exploding. “What the fuck?”
Hearing the commotion, Sheryl rushed into the office, still holding a box of her personal effects. Her gaze of confusion shifted back and forth between the men.
Mel turned to her, “Wait there… you gotta hear this.”
She didn’t budge.
“Brad,” Mel said firmly. “Pick up your coffee and pour it on your head.
He did. Again, he cried out a muffled whimper of pain. His soaked shirt steamed.
Sheryl’s mouth fell open.
It was a smile that told of much more than humor. It was wider than normal and yet still concealed his teeth. It reeked more of foreshadowed mischief than of satisfaction. It was a smile that would make others uneasy, but Sheryl, in this odd moment in time, found it comforting.
“Brad, apologize to Sheryl. Rescind her termination and offer her a fifty percent raise.”
He did, despite an expression of great struggle—words sloppy from forced syllables. His complexion reddening as veins bulged in his neck and forehead.
She accepted with a nervous laugh.
“It’s okay.” Mel said to her. “It’s true. Go ahead and unpack your things.”
She left the room with a smile on her face.
“Now. Here’s how it’s going to go,” Mel instructed.
“You’re going to forget my mother completely. You’re going to hire at least two more programmers to work under my management. You’re going to give me a fifty percent raise and you’re going to allow me to communicate directly with clients during project planning. Oh, and you’re going to stay out of my business. Got it?”
Brad nodded with such force that he might have earned a mild concussion.
“Oh, and if you deviate from my wishes at any time,” Mel said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll tell you to slit your own throat.
“And, just so you don’t think I’m bluffing… break another finger.”
Brad did as he was told.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Slashed open in a fit of uncontrolled rage, my gouged and bleeding thigh is nothing but ravaged flesh; it is the thrill of his attention upon me that is beyond compare. As my blood races, he hears it pulse; as my body quivers, he feels it vibrate; as my mind screams, he hears it echo through his own damaged being. He is ever present – this beast, this creature, this untamed demon that stalks me. Believing me no match for the power his darkness wields, he has been gentle with me till now, wishing not to frighten me with what he truly believes himself to be.
Clawed arm raised to strike again, his breathing is heavy, as labored as my own; his from restraint, mine from fear and desperate longing. He pauses, his hard stare boring into that of my own, gauging if I go willingly or as that of a cowering fool who knows nothing of what she asks of this dark madness. In his eyes I see a confusion of longing coupled with the enamored glee of wanting, an unsure knowledge that he has finally found what he has been seeking; acceptance.
This shatters the final piece of me.
My choice made, I bare my soul with complete submission in the hope of receiving his mark and my eternal salvation; the death of one dim existence, the birth of yet another. I sense still the indecision with which he watches me, unsure if this is to be allowed, or yet another cruel joke in a life fraught with pain, agony, and harsh deception. Do I genuinely offer what I promise? His eyes beg to know. This most gentle of beasts that shall rend me to pieces in a glory of blinding insanity.
His choice yet to be made, my only option to nurture it. I see what lurks behind his mask, I shall not shy from it. I will forever choose to embrace it, though the beast believes it still hides itself behind his reflection.
For now, I shade the glistening pools that reflect all I see at the expense of my own damnation. I wish only to belong to this coupling; though my wish is of little consequence, he’ll take what he will and leave the rest to rot in its own undignified remains.
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Brutality is the form of nature, raw and unrefined, terrible in its awesome power—and these creatures full of it, pecked at her face with ferocious vigor. Alvin watched from behind a tree as splashes of red covered their bony heads. The human bodies that carried them, dressed in black suits and ties, added a surreal quality to the gruesome scene he could scarcely believe.
The five creatures kept at it until the screaming turned to muffled gurgles belching from the twitching body of Alvin’s wife.
Tears streamed from his eyes. Elaine…
A crow squawked atop the limb above, the sound deafening in the quiet woods. He looked up, tried to wish it away, but it screeched again and again as if calling to its brethren, alerting them to his presence.
His lungs halted and he held them as long as possible. He strained against their natural urge to suck air, pursed his lips, and pinned his nose shut with two fingers. For the inevitable, he waited. The group of strange beings would surely converge on him and rip him to shreds as they had poor Ellie.
In a way, he hoped they would. If Heaven existed he’d see her there and they would be together again.
Curiosity forced him to peek around the trunk. They continued to stab her body with knife-like beaks. The whole of their skulls had reddened and dripped with fresh blood. He glimpsed the dark annular sockets where eyes should have been, but no organic matter existed within, only voids which could be seen—but not see.
The crow took flight and passed over the five beasts finishing their meal. It cawed once as it went by.
They all stood at once, rigid and perfectly upright. Rivulets of red ran down their beaks and steadily dripped to the earth at their feet. They raised their arms as if to fly but only stood still. Their beaks opened to expose pointed teeth, and together they lunged downward and finished their feast. A crimson geyser rained down and soaked their pristine suits.
Alvin’s jaw tightened as he stifled cries of guilt. I should have helped her. I should have at least tried.
The orchestra of gorging flesh stopped. The forest went silent, not even nocturnal insects sang. Alvin heard terror pumping though every vein. It pressed at his temples, the pressure building like a vice about to crush his skull.
The pain of brutal death instilled deep terror, willed his survival instinct to preserve his life. If not for that most primal part of mind, he would have walked out from his place of hiding and went willingly into the circle of chimeric beings.
Instead he turned and ran through the brush, forcing his way through bushes of thorns, jumping over fallen branches, dodging trees left and right. He carried himself as he never had before. His shoes grew feathers and the wind whisked his feet forward with every desperate step. Hope rose inside. Hope that he might get away, that the death behind would not catch up, and he’d see the sun again.
A blinding, amber light burst into the sky ahead, but not the sun he’d hoped for. It rained like fire on the forest floor as he covered his eyes against the pain. With it came a terrible heat that threatened to singe the hair from his forearms. He crouched and tried to shield himself.
Footsteps halted inches away from his fetal position. Death had arrived. He looked up to see the uncanny bird-men ablaze in the torrid light. The blood that covered them burned like fire. They’d become as the phoenix, all fury and power.
The brightness blinked out, casting the forest back into the shadow empty space brings to the night. All went quiet except for the breath of the creatures standing over him.
They stabbed repeatedly as he writhed on the ground. His view of the white moon turned to blood and the night darkened. Time slowed, and as his consciousness faded, he saw inside the empty, non-existent eyes of his tormentors. Inside he saw her, curled into a mangled ball that was once her beautiful form. All around her were strangers in similar position.
Elaine… Forgive me. I’ll see you soon.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.