“It’s the complex.”
“Yeah, I know it’s the complex, but why should I have to foot the bill?”
She glances over at her partner with a baffled expression. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Taken aback, and literally leaning back against the car door, he responds tersely, “She got diagnosed with a complex, my wife. Ain’t you been listening? Some anxiety bullshit that the doc’s say means she don’t have to work no more. And ya know what that means? It means I gotta foot the bill for everything. The house, the god damned private school, fancy label cloths for her and the little princess, days at the spa to calm her nerves. Her nerves, fuck me. And don’t even get me started on the after-school activities…”
“Charlie, I was talking about the complex, the one we’re parked in front of doing our job. You know, ‘The Complex’ – read the friggin sign. And besides, if you didn’t want to deal with her kid, you shouldn’t have married a single mother.”
Glancing up, Charlie responds with his usual enlightening, “Oh.”
Samantha, breathing deeply, does her best to stay calm. Being saddled with Charlie is like having an idiot child of her own to manage. After releasing her death grip on the steering wheel, she tries to reason with him again. “Focus, Chuck. We’ve been sitting here day after day and nothing weird has happened, right?”
“Nothing weird ‘sept that two other people went missing in broad daylight. Speakin’ of broads, you know that bitch had the gall to ask me where we was going on vacation this year?”
Ignoring his personal drama, Sam steers the conversation back to the relevant topic. “That’s my point. There are only two ways in or out of the condominium complex, and we’ve got a car stationed at both 24/7 yet no one has seen anything funny. Not on our shift, not the other shifts, so two more people going missing from in there,” she points at the condos, “is weird. It’s got be the complex.” She chews her nail while working it over in her head.
Charlie slurps from his Big-Gulp. “So what – you think someone’s been draggin’ full size bodies out on foot? That ain’t possible. There’s an eight foot fence surrounds the whole place. It’d never happen. And we already did a sweep of all the homes, ain’t nobody hiding no bodies in there.”
Encouraged, Sam continues. “Right! That’s what I mean. We know they’re not in there, and we know they never exited, so what’s left? Have you ever heard of the phenomenon where someone is a block from home, but just can’t get there?”
“Wha? You mean like they fell and hit their head and wandered off. Come on, Sammy. Don’t tell me you buy into that freakin’ weirdo bullshit about other dimensions and roads that go nowhere crap.”
“So you have heard about it? Why not here, why not now? It would explain what’s going on.”
Shaking his head yet refusing to make eye contact, he scoffs, “Look, I see that shit on the covers of trash rags in the check-out line at the Piggly-Wiggly, it don’t make it real.”
They both spot their relief car rolling to a stop behind them as Charlie finishes. “Look, Sam, you got a lot a years ahead of you in blue yet. Why don’t you leave the detecting to the detectives and keep your nose clean, huh?”
Incredulous, her head swings in his direction; she catches sight of the passenger from the other squad car walking up to theirs, the late afternoon sunlight glints off the metal on his uniform.
Charlie rolls down his window and they exchange pleasantries before he reports that there hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary going on.
Unwilling to be stifled, she tells the other officer they’re going to take a quick cruise through the complex, make sure everything’s quiet inside as well. Both men share a look, the patrolman standing outside the car nods, taps the roof in acknowledgment, then walks back to his own vehicle.
Before Charlie can protest, she swings the Suburban in an arc and pulls up to the gated entry. After clearing the guard station, she tells Charlie to get out his pen and notepad, and to write down the turns they make including the street names. He gives her a bogus salute with his middle finger extended.
She pulls forward on Gateway Drive, makes the first right onto Jackson, a left onto Hamilton, then a right onto Dumont. She pulls over and puts the SUV in park. Turning to her partner, she asks, “You get all that?”
With a dramatic sigh, he nods, “Yup. Right onto Jackson, left onto Hamilton, right onto Dumont. What now, do ya wanna’ rouse the poor folks living at number eleven over here and accuse them of hidin’ bodies?” he mocks as he points over his shoulder with the butt of the pen.
“Humor me on this one, will you?” she says as she makes a three-pointer. “Okay, so heading back out…”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Left onto Hamilton, right onto Jackson, left onto Gateway. Let’s get this little show of yours over with.”
She follows the reverse directions to a T as he reads them aloud at each intersection. “Left onto Hamilton… right onto Jackson… left onto – what the fuck? Where the hell did Gateway go? Did you make a wrong turn?”
They were staring down a dead-end street with the same pleasantly gray sided, white trimmed attached homes as every other street in the complex, but this one had no outlet, and no street sign.
Looking confused and a little pissed that she’d tricked him, Charlie grunts, “Fuck this. Bang a U-ey, we’re going back to Dumont and staring over.”
She backtracks to Dumont and stops in front of number eleven. Charlie, scratching his ear, is looking at the directions on his pad. “What was the name of that street we was on when we turned around?”
“It had no sign, we both know it didn’t.” The snark in her voice was enough to set him off.
“Just turn the fucking car around and let’s do this again,” he shouts. “And this time, don’t fuck it up.”
“You got it boss. Call out the directions and I promise you I won’t turn unless you tell me to.”
“Go to the corner, make a left onto Hamilton. Good, now go to the next cross street, make a right onto Jackson. A-huh, okay, now just up ahead, we should be making a left onto Gateway. What the mother-fuck? How the hell did we screw that up again? Wait, let me think. Curb us for a sec.” She does as he asks.
After a few moments of quiet contemplation, he hands her the notebook and says, “You’re the genius here, you tell me what we did wrong.”
She looks down at the pad, “We didn’t do anything wrong, we followed the route back perfectly.”
He explodes, “Then why the fuck are we on this cock-sucking dead-end street again?” After a couple of heaving breaths, he takes the pad back and does another mental run.
“Okay, I think I know where we screwed up. Let’s go back to eleven Dumont and this time we’ll get it right.”
Silently, she retraces their route. As she pulls onto Dumont, she stops at number thirteen.
Fear, disguised as aggravation, shows on his face, “What are you doing? Why didn’t you stop at eleven? We gotta do this exactly the same way,” he emphasizes each syllable by slapping his fist onto the pad.
She quietly whispers, “Look around.”
He twists left and right, seeing all the identical buildings for what they are – identical, except for the numbers. Five, seven, nine, thirteen.
“What the fuck? Where is number eleven? Okay, now I know you’re fuckin’ with me. You got Linsey in on this. He’s out there fuckin’ with the numbers while we’re driving around or somethin’. I knew he looked at you funny when we was on the street. Get out. Go on, get out of the fucking car. I’m driving.”
With an exasperated sigh, she opens her door and steps out. Charlie nearly knocks her over scrambling into the driver’s seat. Before slamming the door, he barks for her to get her ass in the car or he’s leaving without her.
With Charlie driving, they take the same route again, this time the final left puts them onto a long street with a single right hand turn at the end. “Ha!” Charlie croaks. “See, I told ya you was doing somethin’ wrong.”
“Yeah, but Chuck, this isn’t…”
Grinning tensely from ear to ear, he cuts her words off clean. “I don’t give a shit what it isn’t, as long as it ain’t that fucking dead-end again.” He nervously scrubs at his brow. “So we got twisted around somewhere, shit happens. All these places look the same, don’t sweat it.” Charlie makes the right at the end of the street.
“What the fuck? Ain’t no fuckin’ way this is the same dead-end.”
“Hey, you think we should radio in about Sam and Chuck?” Lindsey asks the other officer sitting behind the wheel of their cruiser.
“Nah, I’m sure they’re long gone by now, it’s been hours. They probably ducked out the back when those dip shits assigned to the rear gate were off taking a wiz together. You know how nervous rookies get pulling an all-nighter on a case like this. Relax, have another beer.”
∼ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2016 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
The catacomb swallowed him like the throat of a great beast. With kerosene lantern in hand, he crept down long spiral staircases which led deep into the subterranean bowels beneath Hillside Cemetery. Cobwebs clung to his neck and tangled in his hair. He swiped at them with his free hand and shuddered when his fingers brushed against a hairy body. Tiny legs scrambled to escape but it couldn’t move fast enough; he flung the arachnid against the wall. At the bottom of the stairwell, uncovered remnants of the once living slept eternal in their wall crypts. He eyed them as he walked by and wondered how old they might be.
Vastly ancient, he thought. Beyond compare…
A set of piercing eyes appeared in the dark. The lantern revealed a large rat, its fur soaked in filth. It squeaked as it fled his presence and crawled into a crack in the wall.
This place must be crawling with them. I’m probably surrounded. An involuntary shiver shook his body.
The hall led straight as far as the lantern allowed him sight, both walls lined with those laid to rest innumerous centuries ago. He followed its dark stretch with haste, wanting desperately to find the ossuary he’d obsessed over for so long.
He remembered the last thing Horace said before he left. I’m telling you, don’t go down there. That place was forgotten for a reason.
Booker disregarded the warning; it only made his fevered passion burn brighter.
A cold breath of air blew by, ruffling his shirt and swinging his lantern on its handle. He spun on his heels and scanned the dark, heart rattling against his ribs. He took labored breaths and put his hand to his chest.
“Holy shit.” His voice came out weak, stifled, toned down in the ancient stone chamber.
He turned and quickened his steps. The gust of air made him uneasy; he couldn’t fathom where it might have originated and how it reached the depths of isolation he traveled. But he had to continue. So close after years of research, nothing could dissuade him.
He wondered how long it had been since a living being last tread the ground he paced. Difficult to imagine a pre-historic civilization, uncharted and known only to a select few who had extreme enthusiasm about such things. Surprising how they remained absent from art and literature, unclaimed by the scholars of history. But he, Booker Thorn, walked the sacred ground of their forgotten corpses.
An arch stood at the end of the tunnel, behind it, the ossuary he hoped to find.
“I finally found it. It’s real. And here it is right in front of me.”
He made hesitant steps when he heard the scrape of metal against the floor. With no foreknowledge of what the chamber contained, the possibilities both allured and terrified his curious mind. He certainly hadn’t expected movement. But the inconsistent sound of metal dragged against stone told not of treasure and artifacts, but of something possibly much more interesting and rare. Movement indicated life, as impossible as it seemed in the house of death.
He stretched his arm to extend the light by which he could see. It revealed a chain on the floor, but not what it connected to. His eyes followed the links into the ebony shadow that filled the room. The chain moved again, pulled further into the void by an unknown force. The lantern rattled in his hand and he steadied it with effort.
Breath heaved in and out through a raspy throat. Booker listened intently, silencing himself to hear.
Whatever’s in there is alive. But how could that be? How could something live down here for millennia? Did someone beat me to this place?
The breathing quieted and Booker sat still. He waited for the unknown to make a move; he didn’t want to go first.
The chain flew across the chamber with force, scraping the stone blocks on which it rested. The sudden movement sent Booker reeling back. He dropped the lantern and the glass shattered. The light flickered and went out.
Breathing intensified as darkness consumed him. He retrieved a book of matches from his pocket, tore one from the pack and struck it; fire exploded into existence at the tip, lending poor light to the situation. He swallowed hard and crawled along the floor, bringing the flame closer to the coveted chamber.
The chain moved, ran its cold metal over his fingers. He barred his teeth and stifled a cry.
Hot breath descended on his neck, followed by a snort which shot a foul cloud of decay around his head. The contents of his stomach spilled with brutal force.
A strong hand gripped his thigh and lifted him from the floor. He dropped the match, allowing darkness its return. He dangled in the air, trachea closed, unable to scream. No intelligible thought could formulate in his mind—terror decimated reason and ripped primal fear from deep within the psyche.
The unseen hand that held him tightened fingers until bone snapped. Shock spread like fire as he gasped for air involuntarily.
A flare of agony came with a stabbing sensation and ended with the flesh of his leg torn open. Liquid caressed his side, dripped from his head to the floor. The cut ran deep, sliced through fat and muscle, and scraped the broken bone inside.
He heard a crack when the femur was wrenched from his thigh, followed by the wet slap of boneless skin falling against his torso. Eyes opened wide and waves of visceral imagery crashed against his screaming brain.
His twitching body dropped to the floor. He sensed his arm pop from its socket, the flesh torn away, but it felt distant, the pain only a dull throb. His chest hitched in feeble attempts to get air as his ribs snapped one after another.
A sliver of light appeared above, shining down from an opening at the peak of the vaulted chamber.
Light… There’s light…
Skeletal frame extracted, his body sagged into a muddle of human pulp. All thought coalesced. A crunch echoed, crisp and clear. Eyes lolled toward the sound and a glimpse of what occupied the room burned into his final memory.
Long teeth chewed blood soaked bone, shoved into its mouth with thin, curved fingers. Its leathery brown skin pulsed with thick veins and creased in endless folds and wrinkles. Two black discs stared from a misshapen head.
The light dimmed and went out as the opening in the ceiling closed, the underworld of forgotten things again consigned to oblivion.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
“Alright guys, grab a quick breather and take fifteen!”
I barely hear my foreman’s voice come through the radio clipped to the left side of my safety vest. Lowering my bulldozer’s blade to the ground, I shut the machine down. Almost immediately, I miss the roar of the engine.
A breeze blows a rising dirt cloud away from the cab as I make way down to the ground and remove my cigarettes. I shake one out of the package into my hand.
Looking up, most of the guys are standing around in a circle. Mike, I believe that’s his name, waves for me to join them but I shake my head ‘no thanks’ and light my cigarette.
I don’t want camaraderie doing this fucking job.
The drag is long but exhaled quickly. I don’t even taste these things anymore. I do it for a sense of normalcy in days that are no longer normal.
As I circle around to the front of the dozer, my fingers gently run along the chipped and worn yellow paint until they reach the blade. After almost twenty years of operating a dozer I used to love the sound of the blade scraping along the ground.
It was a sound of power and production.
A few meters away, two excavators sit idly beside a freshly dug pit, roughly the size of the foundation for a small house. The overburden sits on the far side of it as a silent witness.
Actually it’s not a pit.
It’s a mass grave for the enormous pile of bodies in front of my dozer.
They are the bodies of the formerly living dead; bodies that were once living people. Despite various stages of decay, I no longer notice the thick stench of death. I toss my cigarette away, no longer wanting it.
To clear my mind, I glance at a large section of land we finished clear cutting yesterday. A thick tree line remains around the site concealing our actual job from the public eye.
Somewhere within the trees a gunshot rings out, followed by cheers; looks like our armed escorts got another one for the pile. My eyes find their way back to the dead, imagining who they were at one time. Limbs of different sizes stick out of the pile like a grotesque form of art.
The small limbs are the ones that get me the most.
If I stare long and hard at them, I can almost make out which ones belong to—
My legs give out. Slumping to the ground with my back against the blade, I press my face into my palms. I don’t know how much time passes when my radio crackles to life.
“Alright, boys, let’s get back to it. Lucas, whenever you’re ready, go ahead and push those fuckers into the pit.”
My arm is heavy as I reach up to grasp my mic. “You got it, boss.”
I get to my feet, climb back up to the cab and start the engine. Manipulating the controls, I raise the blade a few inches off the ground before inching the bulldozer forward.
The worst part is the blade making contact with the pile. There’s a slight shudder of resistance before the bulldozer pushes through and bodies start to roll toward the pit like a wave approaching a beach.
I feel a few of the smaller bodies slip underneath the blade, getting stuck bellow it.
I’ll have to make another pass.
This isn’t the first pile I’ve had to push into a mass grave.
Nor will it be the last.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
I have been known by many names, I prefer Nemesis. Like all deities, my origin and true purpose have been forgotten, denied and sanctified by folklore. I was the dispenser of Justice before justice became a blindfolded woman in the courts of men. I see into the hidden depths of your soul and make manifest your most despised fears, I deliver what you truly deserve. It is not karma, it is not an eye for an eye, it is pure punishment. I will take both eyes and every other organ as well.
I take pride in my work; the dead squabble at the gates of my kingdom as if vying for entrance to an exclusive club. Only the very top skimming of filth, those responsible for the most extraordinary cruelty may proceed. There are many realms of Hell. The common evil doers toss and tumble in pits of flame for eternity, a monotonous suffering fit for the feeble minded. Liars, thieves, adulterers, blasphemers, you will wish you had the balls to really follow your dark urges when you are sentenced to those seething pits of tedious torment. Those pathetic souls are not fit to be in Hell but, of course, the gatekeepers of Heaven will not take them so here they remain: moaning, bitching, squirming; just as they did in life.
Every moment fresh hoards are ushered through the screaming fields where they first witness the horrors they will be subjected to. Row upon row, as far as can be seen, the damned are staked and raked, enduring visions of torture I project upon them.
Among my elite charge are infamous mass murderers, pedophiles, tyrants and politicians, and my favorites, men of the cloth. I have them to thank for the more creative implements of torture at my disposal. I don’t often get my own hands dirty, I have gimps to perform the menial tasks, but sometimes a particular soul will beg for my personal attention.
I have created my world to beautiful perfection. The Infernal Lord respects my artistry and allows me to proceed as I wish. I stroll through the black smoking fields, the rolling hills of ash and debris, piled high with torn limbs, rotting organs, shattered bones. My vulturous familiars flock and feed on the remains, their red eyes glistening like jewels in the fog. The shrieks of the damned are a blissful, primeval hum; the stench of decay is always flourishing. I walk along the rivers of semen and bile that trickle into a thick sea of blood, and I find peace in my work. For a thousand years I have been content in my kingdom. And then you, my beloved, appeared at my gates.
I, of all beings, should appreciate the irony of Universal Law, but I was stunned, you took my breath away. Never did it occur to me that I would see you again, how could I have been so naive? One of my favorite tasks is to torture soul mates, making one watch the other suffer, squeezing them empty of the precious love they believed so rare. And then you, my beloved, were delivered to me.
I was working in the fields happily, the spread-eagled sod before me began a pleasant, pathetic wail at the mere sight of the rake I held. I raised the tool to begin but suddenly paused, shocked to feel your presence. The distinctive energy of you was close. A flock of dead, shrouded in black clouds of hate, were being ushered through the gates and you were amongst them, shuffling along, your head hung low.
Your body bore the marks and lashes of other kingdoms, you had been in Hell a long time but it was apparent you were not yet truly broken. In sheer audacity you clung to the shreds of your royal attire, wrapping them around yourself as if still a noble man. I stared as you walked past, then I returned to my work. Distracted, I tore the fellow before me into thin strips with one quick movement.
I left you strung up for days in the fields, uncertain of how I was going to approach you. Never before had I experienced this doubt in my own realm. Was this a test? Was I, Nemesis, being ridiculed? It baffled and insulted me. My prayers to the Infernal Lord were met with silence.
My gimps became nervous as they watched me grow withdrawn and silent. “What task today Mistress? What wonders may we do today Mistress?” they sniffled and groveled at my feet and I kicked them away, impatient and angry.
“Hang them by their balls! Hook them up by their holes,” I shouted and paced. “Dip them in boiling fat then set them on fire! I don’t care, think of something! Do as you please and leave me alone!”
Brooding, I locked myself away, turning my back on my exquisite realm, until I could avoid you no longer.
I lifted your head with the tip of my pitchfork. My great and powerful king, slayer of children, defiler of men, strung up like a corpse waiting to be gutted. I can still see that steady look on your face as you swung your jeweled sword and sliced off my head. You didn’t pause, you didn’t hesitate. Do you see me now? I have evolved; I have become something other, something more, while you have remained a wretch, stubbornly clinging to ideas that no longer serve you. Your royal birth, your blood line, is of no significance here.
Your eyes were glazed and gray, your once handsome face nothing but stretched skin over bone. In your mad delirium you mumbled the ancient hymns of your powerless pagan god. I stuck the spears of the pitchfork deep into your throat to get your attention. You lifted your eyes to meet my own. What traveled between us, in our gaze, horrified me and I let the pitchfork fall. A black putrid liquid seeped from the holes in your neck and trickled, streaking you with slime. We stared at each other. I thought it impossible, but it was there, tangible, the remnants of our love.
You recognized me and the mask of your face changed. Something in my long dead and hardened chest began to swell. Your eyes watered. Your tears were of black slime too and the thick drops sat on your cheeks like little bugs. A sound gurgled in your throat as you struggled for a voice. I heard you whisper my name, the name I had in life, and your whisper rattled my kingdom.
“My darling, my darling, is it really you?” you croaked. “Save me.”
A feeble plea dripping with sweet humiliation. Yet my sight blurred, a strange haze surrounded me. My rotten, phantom heart beat louder. Tears, my own tears, that I thought I would never need cry again, began rolling down my cheeks. I cried the blood of devils. I dropped to my knees and wept.
The ravaged earth below me laughed. It was the cruel laughter of the Infernal Lord, pleased to see me, the great Demoness Nemesis, broken. And then I looked up to see you too were chuckling, spluttering your black venom.
My tears stopped. A rage infused me, more glorious than I’ve ever felt before and I shrieked triumphantly at the pleasure of it. Without another moment’s hesitation I stood and rammed the pitchfork through your chest, then jacked it open. Your withered heart was a stone. I yanked it out and swallowed it.
Then I set to work, with renewed delight and focus. Once we reigned as king and queen in a fertile and noble land. Now I reign alone over my own dominion. Your rule was cruel and villainous but my reign is without limitation.
I administered the tortures that you had enjoyed watching as king. I cut your tongue into thin slices, a slice for every lie and bribe you had spoken. A long stake through your anus and out your mouth, for the rapes of young men, women and children. I lost myself in a frenzy of dismemberment, plucking your ribs and vertebrae, savoring each diseased organ, weaving a lace of bondage with your own intestines.
My Lord appeared to me, breaking my reverie, so pleased was He with my work. I prostrated in obedience and we fornicated on your remains. Your gouged eyeballs watched, hanging out of the sockets of your severed head. Your twisted and scalded penis twitched, aroused. Your hands crawled away like bleeding spiders. My gimps came to scrape you up and put you back together again. Your torment will never end; it is a nightmare you will dream for eternity.
I will always be your Nemesis and you will be mine.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.