The luxury yacht traversed between the Philippine islands. Derek found the perfect beach in a hidden lagoon. Tom dropped anchor. The girls, in bikinis, packed sandwiches and beer. The jungle watched as two couples disembarked and waded through crystal water to the beach. They picnicked, swam, napped in the sun. Tom and Jasmine hiked into the jungle “to be alone.” Their screams woke Derek and Amy. They searched the island for their missing friends. Found them tied to trees, skinned to red sinews. Tom’s eyes had been eaten out. Jasmine, bleeding from head to toe, begged for help. Derek tried to untie her. The vines tightened, snapped her ribcage. Green tentacles shot out, wrapped around Derek. He yelled as thorny vines peeled off his skin. Amy, crying, backed into a stone idol. Ivy snaked up her legs. After feeding, the jungle placed bloody bones at the feet of their god.
Joseph A. Pinto
Sunlight clings to life; a sliver across his eyes. He draws the blinds, killing it for good. Adjusts to the gloom, the shadow. It covers the room; a sheet uninterrupted in its totality. No furniture, no menial things to disrupt its reach.
Thirty-seven days; he is quite used to the black. Seen no more, still he can hear them, their ruinous limbs dragging across curbs. Teeth clack, clack, clacking inside misshapen heads. Human once, ravaged now by pestilence, disease.
Thirty-seven days since he has stepped foot outside. Nevertheless, his years of extravagant living, an overindulgent craving for the finest delicacies, has afforded him a luxury few can claim.
Thirty-seven days. He can survive thirty-seven more. Knife against his stomach, he slices flesh razor thin; he will sustain himself. Water from toilet, meat across tongue; he will sustain himself until the world turns sane once more.
A Passing Discomfort
Lee A. Forman
When two hands touch something is always felt. It might be an awkward pang, or something more uncomfortable—revulsion, a burning disgust for the feel of another human being.
Sometimes it’s more.
The heart races. Every tiny hair on my skin rises. And I know they feel the same thing.
A glance into their eyes and it’s over. The mask of terror forms, carved by my curse. I traverse an incalculable distance, one that can’t be measured in numbers; something greater than infinity but more tangible. You could hold it in your hands or it could encompass all time and space.
I know exactly when they’re going to die. And so do they, but only for that moment of discomfort when brushing against a stranger. In the blink of an eye they forget. But I remember. Even after they’re gone.
Veronica Magenta Nero
I used to feed on insects and vermin that I trapped in my black and blistered hands. I lived in slim alleys where brick walls caked with despair met in dead ends. Bags of garbage piled high like fat split bodies, thin skins leaking toxic waste, under the dark loom of sky scrapers. Towers so high you can’t see the top, they block the sun.
But I found the way out, took a chance when I saw it. I groomed myself in a new image. I stepped on the heads of those less hungry, less able, ripped them down as I pulled myself up, to the top of the food chain. Elite meat is sautéed in sweet tears and sweat, the luxury of human flesh free of disease, a menu of privileged taste.
There once was no greater luxury than being human. Unfortunately, that is rare in the days that follow the uprising. The very technology that we developed turned out to be our downfall and now there are far more of them than there are of us. Artificial intelligence suddenly became not so artificial and before we had a chance to react, they had control of everything in our world, including our population. Humans were rounded up and slaughtered in unimaginable numbers. Packed stadiums were obliterated, cities were all but wiped from the map, and countries crumbled as world leaders were targeted and disposed of. I’m not sure why, but they kept a small amount of us around and though we felt like the lucky few at the time, I don’t feel so lucky now. In fact, I’d gladly trade this luxury for the swift death that took my family from me.
Just keep your head down, no need to draw any unnecessary attention. Two are wearing black suits. They’re Internal Registry Agents. Don’t make eye contact with them. Act normal, go about your business… shit! They’re following, asking me for them. Damn. They want to see my Human Registration Papers. Fuck. It’s almost impossible to register when you’re not of this earth. Keep walking. Head for the subway, you can lose them down there. They order me to stop and something about opening fire. Don’t stop, keep moving, you’re almost there! I hear a familiar click behind my head. Move feet, damn it, move! Just a few more-
Menthol, that’s all I smelled. The bloated mass before me waited patiently. I picked up the scalpel, the fluorescent light humming above glinted off its metallic surface. The Y incision made, I peeled back the outer layer of skin exposing globules of fatty residue and further decomposed tissue. Thick yellow fluid oozed from the gangrenous edges of the incised flesh. The second stroke sliced through muscle, invaded the stomach cavity; the gaseous release hissed in competition with the fixture overhead. The half-digested, half-rotted contents within were easily discernible. Next, I moved to the throat and began a vertical slit in the esophagus. The small, elongated objects lodged in the upper esophageal sphincter left no doubt; they were human fingers. Removing my mask, I glanced at the chart, confirmed the preliminary findings.
Cause of Death: suffocation due to blockage of the systema respiratorium.
Echoes of a Chorus
Christopher A. Liccardi
The violins started, cellos chased their pulse as the last of his heart’s blood pumped out of him, unaware the journey was one way. His life spilled over the papers that recorded his greatest masterpiece and his death song.
I waived my hands in the air, conducting as I was taught by him. The yellow afterglow of his banker’s lamp on the piano winked in time to the throb of the aural perfection he’d finished not an hour ago. People would remember him for it; and me for killing him.
The orchestration had finally taken on a life of its own; his life, in fact but that’s how it should be, right? He always spoke about dying for his art. All I did was help him with that last bit.
The blade I now used as a baton, directing invisible musicians to symphonic perfection, and it was his greatest work.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
I led the life once.
“Excuse me. I was hoping we could talk a minute. Something about what your daughter said to mine.”
It felt another lifetime ago. For all intents and purposes, it was.
“You know how kids can be. So I was hoping you could find out what was said?”
I was born into the life. Into the family. And when you’re born into the family, you’re expected to act a certain way. There’s a creed that’s followed, one that’s not ever questioned. Not ever.
“See, my little girl came home yesterday. She told me your daughter told her that she can’t be on safety patrol.”
You lead two lives. The person you are, and the person the family needs you to be. You’re molded without ever feeling the hands. It starts early, when you’re still too young to understand. But you’re molded. You’re taught there’s only one way, the family way. No right, no wrong.
“She told me that your daughter told her that she’s too awkward to be on safety patrol. That she’s not normal. That she’s got issues. My little girl cried all night. It tore me up inside, you know?”
But times change. Families change. Values, the way of going about yourself. Conducting business. This new age took over and old school thinking got pushed further and further from the mind. It went the way of the dinosaurs. Extinct.
“Children shouldn’t have to deal with hurtful words, not at this age. So I was hoping you could find out. And if it’s true what she said, then maybe you could…you know…just talk to your daughter.”
Some things don’t ever die out, though. Some things adapt, learn to survive. Respect is one them. It’s all in the way the family molds you. My pop, for instance. He did his thing, day in, day out, setting an example. Simply by emulating him, I earned his respect. Day in, day out. The family way. The only way he knew.
“There’s nothing got to be talked about.” This father I had never met before, this father who I wanted to believe was as protective of his own daughter as I was of mine, waved his hand in front of my face. I took note of his rail thin arms, his mismatched tattoos. He leaned close to my face; a little too close. “My woman raised our kid right, so your girl, she’s lying. My kid ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“How can you say that if you haven’t even asked—”
There was this one time my pop and I sat eating lunch. Respect, he blurted while we both chewed my Nonna’s tripe, is the most important thing in this world. More important than money. It shows up on the job long before you do. You don’t have respect, you got nothing. Nothing. He chewed and chewed on that tripe and then smiled, a rubbery piece of cow intestines caught in his teeth. But sometimes, you need to teach it.
“Ain’t nothing got to be talked about! Your girl is lying and that’s that.” This father I never met before, this father who I still wanted to believe was as protective of his own daughter as I was of mine, still leaned close to my face; a little too close. “Maybe there’s a reason your girl can’t make safety patrol. Maybe you and your girl should figure it out yourselves.”
Sometimes you need to send them a message.
The father I had never met before smirked and stepped away. A young woman in skin-tight jeggings wearing a PINK hoodie two sizes too small sashayed over to him. She stared, cracked her gum as he whispered in her ear, then they laughed. Laughed, all shits and giggles; the barbell through her tongue shiny under the sun. They shared a sloppy kiss.
Stunods, real stunods, both of them. The school doors opened, and again, for another day, my little girl was mine.
I led the life once.
But the life can’t always be what it was. It can’t be. Upbringings change, morals change. The hands that once molded you disappear. Disappear, and eventually you realize your own hands are meant to mold a new life.
I lay beside my daughter reading her a bedtime story. Lightly, she touched my arm. “Daddy, will I ever be on safety patrol?”
I closed the book.
“Daddy, I don’t want to be not normal.”
“It’s okay though, Daddy, because I don’t need a lot of friends. But I really want to be on safety patrol. I can be really good at it, Daddy.” Her hands flapped in front of her, limbs so rigid in her excitement. “I can be really good. Really good.”
Silently I seethed, cursing the unfairness of my daughter’s disabilities and for the first time in my life, I suddenly felt those hands upon me, the ones that had molded the life I once knew. The life I thought was done.
Sometimes you need to teach it. Sometimes you need to send them a message.
I took my little girl and hugged her, hugged and kissed her, reassuring her that all her life was going to be really good, really, really good. I sang her a song about sunshine until she slipped into dreamland’s arms. Then I locked myself in my room and wept before making the decision to step back into the life again.
It took a few days to learn his pattern. It wasn’t hard.
I found him alone on a Tuesday night, the bar a quiet place right on the fringe of town. I knew the bartender there. Quite well.
A tiny bell sounded above the door as I stepped inside, but the father I had never met before didn’t turn around. The bartender nodded toward me, then offered his only customer a shot that was greedily knocked back by a wobbly hand.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”
He didn’t acknowledge me, not at first, his eyes bleary with liquor. I took the stool beside him. “See, I said I was hoping you could find out if it’s true, what your daughter said to mine, but you never bothered. You never took the time. You never took the effort.”
Recognition finally creased the face of the father I had never met before. Before he could get in a slurred word, I leaned close to his face. A little too close. “Respect, my friend, is the most important thing in this world. But you, you showed me none.”
He listened hard, my words whispered between my lips the way they were. “You don’t have someone’s respect, then you have nothing. You said your woman raised your kid right. Your woman…”
His eyes followed the small box I placed between us atop the bar. “I’m going to teach you something now.” My fingers lingered, then drew from the box. I patted his shoulder. Hard. I put my lips to his ear. “Respect starts at home,” then I turned and left.
I was in no hurry. My daughter would be home, sound asleep. Tomorrow, I’d help her with her homework as I always did, then we’d talk about her joining safety patrol. Tomorrow, I’d go back to being her dad.
But not tonight.
I rolled down the truck window and waited, waited until I heard the screams from the father I had never met before penetrate the bar walls. Waited until I knew he had opened the box and found his woman’s pierced tongue inside.
Finally, I started my truck and headed home. I had an irresistible urge to teach my wife Nonna’s old recipe for tripe once I got there.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2016 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
The deafening volume in the hallway was cut short by yet another scene of ruthlessness.
Terri was pulling a math book out of the bottom of his locker when something heavy crashed into him, driving his head into the corner of the metal enclosure. The pain ringing in his ears briefly consumed him as he collapsed to the tile floor. Not again, he pleaded inwardly as he pressed a shaky hand against his forehead to stem the flow of blood.
Regardless of the countless times something similar had happened, he was yet again flooded with humiliation, anger, and a desire to disappear; it was overwhelming. He bowed his head and turned to the side as he bit his lip in a useless attempt to hold back tears that only served to incite his tormentor.
Nothing halted the insane volume of background noise that filled a school like the promise of violence. But the silence never lasted, and his latest tormentor, one of his regulars, filled the empty space with ugly taunts.
“Hey Fairy,” Eric yelled. “How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of my way?”
He pulled his hand away from his forehead and a stream of blood poured down his face as he glanced at the onlookers. The sight was familiar – a hungry crowd wielding phones that recorded the show in high definition. Undoubtedly, many were already thinking about the comments they would upload along with the footage.
Most people in his position would at least look at their attacker, but there was no need. It wasn’t because there was only one possible aggressor; the list of bullies was long. It was because this asshole was one of only three that called him a fairy, and Eric’s oddly high-pitched voice betrayed him immediately.
“Look at me, you sack of shit!”
Eric slammed a meaty fist into the side of Terri’s face, rocking his head side to side. Jeers and taunts erupted from the crowd as Eric’s football buddies cried out for more. Waves of darkness edged their way into the periphery of his vision, but he kept his eyes on the crowd. It was easy to gauge how bad the beating was going to be by the behavior of the audience.
The crowd was quickly getting bored; it was obvious he wasn’t going to fight back and the excitement ebbed away. The other students started to wander off. He closed his eyes, tried to stop the tears, fought the urge to pass out. He found himself wondering for the millionth time why none of the others cared, why none of them stood up for him. Even the local Emo kids shunned him. What was left of his ravaged heart ached.
“You got off easy,” Eric said as he rubbed his sore fist. “Keep quiet about this or I’ll take it to a whole other level of ugly.” The jocks walked away with their chests puffed out, almost as far as their egos, each boasting about how much they had lifted in gym class, somehow sure this equated to dick size.
He sat for a minute and waited for the hallway to clear before he slowly picked up his backpack. He would have given anything for a sympathetic ear, or a caring shoulder, but he knew reality was nothing like the Lifetime Channel. It would be a mistake to think he would get support or comfort anywhere, not even at home.
His father always insisted the beatings were his own fault for being a pansy that didn’t understand how the system worked. Dad frequently told him that his life would be punctuated by failure and misery, and the rotten bastard was right so far.
He started to walk, unsure of where he was headed, knowing it didn’t really matter. For too many years he planted hopes, wishes, and dreams in his conscious mind like a starving farmer plants the last of his seeds. He watered them with desperation, fertilized them with as much bullshit as he could muster, but the field of his soul was still a desolate, ugly place. Why? The truth was simple. Hope was snake oil. Wishes? Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first. Dreams? Those were the equivalent of a carrot on a stick held in front of a mule headed to the glue factory.
There was no such thing as good in this world. It was as mythological as a unicorn, just more useless. Since there was no good, there could be no evil. There were only varying levels of pain and anguish that were blissfully interrupted by the oblivion of sleep. He frequently dreamt of sleeping eternally, wishing for nothingness to absorb his worthless existence.
In the end, it all came back to the same question. Would he be perceived as selfish? Perhaps, but nobody cared enough to notice, much less think about him if he were gone. It was time.
He reached into his backpack and pulled out the knife. His throat felt tight, and as his resolve strengthened, tears of a different kind slipped from his eyes and mixed with the drying blood on his cheek. He knew better than to think this was a form of happiness, that shit didn’t exist. This was relief. Yes, it was time indeed.
He dropped the pack and made his way to the auditorium. The assembly was probably under way by now. He had wanted to do this in private, but something deep inside urged him to do it in front of a crowd.
“I’ll give them something to post,” he whispered as he opened the back door to the stage. The darkness calmed him. He took off his shirt, then his shoes. He parted the closed curtain with the knife, and stepped into the blinding light on stage.
At first, all he heard was a booming voice echoing through the speaker system, but then came the hushed whisper from hundreds of students. His eyes had begun to adjust to the light when he heard Eric’s telltale voice shout out.
“Look! It’s Terri the Fairy!”
Laughter filled the vast space. One last tear fell; it went unnoticed by the crowd. The laughter continued until a cheerleader in the front row screamed something about him having a knife. Her scream was followed by a few more, but the hushed awe from most of the students was enough to encourage him.
Terri pressed the sharp edge of the knife deep into his left wrist and slowly drew it upward until it reached the inner part of his elbow. Bright blood flowed from the gaping wound; his bright eyes stared out over the sea of confused faces. He took the blade and pushed it into his shoulder until it hit bone, then cut downward through his chest until the blade was sunk deep into his abdomen. Blood started to pool around him, its darkness reached outward.
The spectators, usually keen on gore, were at a loss for words. Some screamed, some retched, but all remained in their place as a new reality debuted before their eyes. Terri started to feel weak as his heart quickly pumped blood from his body, he also felt peace deep within. Peace and something else–something less kind.
Terri sensed movement at his core. It was growing at an incredible rate, but it felt neither foreign nor strange. The growth pressed against organs and caused him to purge the contents of his stomach, as well as his bowels and bladder. He dropped the knife as the change touched his consciousness.
The continued growth started to bulge against his skin, press against his extremities; it fed on him internally. Eldritch bones and musculature sprouted painfully as Terri grew. Tentacles dug their way out the sides of his face; they tore at his flesh to birth the otherworldly being within.
Students woke from their stupor and fled; they trampled one another in blind terror. Terri’s conscious melded with that of the Other, and he gloried in his becoming. He also hungered. Nearly ten feet tall and growing quickly, he reached out for the nourishment that floundered nearby.
Clawed hands covered in a new and loathsome skin plucked the writhing teens from the floor, piled them within reach of the tentacles. He smelled their fear and knew true ecstasy. The tentacles grabbed the students and stuffed them into his now colossal maw; one, two, three at a time. Their screams mixed with the sound of crunching bone. It was musical perfection.
His growth had just started, fed by dozens of the two-legged cattle he’d already consumed, but he found it difficult to move within the confines of the auditorium. He emerged from the remains of the building as it seemingly shrunk beneath his reckless growth.
Terri gave corrupt birth to the profane, was one in heinous thought with the abyss, and demanded eternal retribution. Words poured from his mouth with blasphemous splendor and filled the air with dread.
Arcane incantations of power echoed across the doomed city as he opened the way for many more of his kind. Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep moved through monstrous dimensions beyond time and entered a world that would soon know despair. Oblivion was not his to experience, but his to create.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
“Is this love real?” she asks.
Sitting on a bench near the other end of the room, her words are unmistakable, magnified by the reverence and strange acoustics of the museum. He turns from the glass case filled with the desiccated husks of seahorses to look at her. Her hair is down, her glasses bright. She’s wearing the coat he bought her last winter. It’s not quite winter yet but the evenings are getting cooler. It is evening now. At least, it must be. They’ve been in here for a hundred years already, it seems.
“Obviously,” he replies. “Duh. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
At the sound of his voice, she looks up. “Not you, silly.” She raises the paper cup to her mouth and sips. “Arabica. Instant pick-me-up.”
“I’m an instant pick-you-up.”
“You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”
With a lingering glance at the contents of the cabinet, he walks the short distance to where she’s sitting. She pretends not to watch him as he approaches but he sees her peek sideways. She taps the cup as he takes a seat next to her, her short nails making a hollow sound against the cheap Styrofoam.
“I’ve missed you,” he says.
“From the other side of the room?”
“If you’d just think about moving in…”
She taps faster, then stops altogether. The silence is sudden and alarming. He hadn’t realised how big the room was, how empty. They haven’t seen anyone else in probably ten minutes. He wonders how much longer they have to spend here.
“What were you looking at over there,” she asks, “in the cabinet?”
He catches her peering his way again, decides to play her at her own game. The rows of cases in front of them are too far away and the objects inside too small for him to make them out. He finds himself studying the ceiling. “Why do you ask, when you already know?”
“You were looking at the seahorses,” she tells him.
“How did they look?”
“Like they’d crumble to dust if you touched them.”
“Don’t touch them. Anything else?”
From where he is sitting the exhibits are tiny flecks, almost invisible on the glass shelf. He recalls them, their withered tails, needlepoint snouts, eyes like used cigarette cherries, ashen and black. Beside him, she shifts, her hand finding one of his knees; he realises she’s watching him.
“Thirsty,” he says.
She stares at him a second longer, then laughs. He loves her smile and her face when she laughs. There isn’t much poetic going on his head but he knows what he loves and that is it. Smiling back at her, he buries his head into her shoulder.
“You’re an idiot,” she says.
“Can we go soon?” Muffled by her coat, his voice is small and thick.
“Had enough of me already?”
He wraps his arms around her but does not remove his face from her neck. She smells of perfume – he couldn’t say which – and still a little salty, from the beach yesterday. He loves the beach, almost as much as he loves her. Yesterday had been a good day.
“This place creeps me out.”
“I think it’s romantic.”
“What’s romantic about shrivelled-up fish? I swear I feel like I’m hanging out inside a shipwreck.”
“Come on, seriously?”
He shakes his head, some of her hair falling across the back of his neck.
“The memories,” she says. “The feeling attached to the objects. The objects themselves, so small, so fragile. Your delicate seahorses. The secrets. The stories.”
He feels her set the paper cup down before she moves, her weight shifting underneath him. She leans carefully to one side and stands, lifting him with her. She is not strong enough to carry him and yet she moves him with the lightest suggestion.
Taking his hand, she leads him to one of the cabinets. Like the others, it is made of glass. Like the others, a spotlight shines down over it. It is a bright, impersonal space, considering the nature of the objects housed within. He almost thinks he understands what she means.
“Is this love real?” she breathes. He follows her pointed finger to a small item just below head-height. It is a ring. At least, it used to be. The years do not appear to have been kind to it, battering the metal, creating pocks and eroding away much of what might once have been a design. It is crusty and matte and covered in tiny discs, almost like it has been carved out of rock.
“Why does it look like that?”
“It’s a tentacle. Crafted in the likeness of one, anyway. No one knows where it’s from. There was a theory, but that’s just another name for a story, and there are already lots of those.”
He is watching the ring and the reflection of her face around it. She is still smiling, her glasses bright. The eyes behind them brighter. He doesn’t know what she is talking about but he loves that smile. He gives her hand a squeeze; she squeezes back.
“Where did they find it?”
“Washed up, technically, 1973. Inside a shark’s guts. The gulls were pulling ropes for their morning feast and some children spotted it, still red, still wet, sticking out the sand.”
She looks as beautiful with her glasses on as she does without. When she leans forwards, like she does now, her hair falls around her face. It is shoulder-length hair, dark but with red undertones, caught in the right light. With her free hand, she tucks a stray strand quickly behind one ear.
“Some say it was made by primitive island people. This story goes, they worshipped the sea, and the things that lived in it, so they carved jewellery that resembled them. Seeing the ring now, I can believe that. I can see the waves in its grooves, the strength in its shape, the beauty in its suckered likeness. I can see something divine in the brine and the blood and the cut of coral.”
“You really love this stuff, don’t you?”
She leans in closer and he moves with her. His face inches towards the glass, the coarse sea smell filling his nose again, and for a moment he too finds himself staring at the ring. He slides deeper, its grasp tightening, feels a hand through his hair, the suggestion of darkness filled with pale shapes and submarine depths. He realises he is breathing heavily.
“What happened to the island people?”
“No one knows, but I have a theory, professor.” She winks at him, and he feels himself stirring. Here, of all places, in this wreck of a museum! “I think they died. Thousands of years ago, swept away by a storm. The sea they worshipped gave them life, then just as quickly it took it away. Now that’s love.”
He stands there for several minutes while she admires the exhibit. His breathing steadies. His arm finds her waist and she stirs slightly, but no more. He wishes she looked at him the same way she does those antiques. He knows she’s interested. No, it’s more than that. She loves him. He’s certain. She just won’t admit it. He doesn’t know what that means.
“Come on, it’s getting cold and the table’s booked for eight.”
“It is getting cold, isn’t it? Did you see that?”
He looks over her shoulder as he helps her to button up. Sometime between sitting at the bench and checking out the display, the lights in the hallway have gone out. He hopes they haven’t been locked in. He hasn’t seen any staff but assumes they’d check every room first.
“Almost done. See what?”
“There.” She squints behind her glasses, then stiffens. He feels her tense bodily in his hands. “There.”
This time he sees it. A single light, hovering about head-height in the dark. It flickers intermittently, soft, dull pulses that fill him with a sense of contentment. It has to be a torch.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
The hallway swallows his words. He stares harder, wishes his eyes would adjust faster, but the flashes are playing games with his sight.
He hears her behind him, throws an arm out protectively. “Stay back.”
The light is weak but there is something satisfying about its rhythm and the vague illumination it casts.
“I said stop!”
Gradually the light grows fiercer. Shadows squirm across the boards and up the walls. He smells the sea, gently at first, then the sudden rush of damp and decay. It had not smelled so strongly at the beach yesterday, amid the rock pools with the crabs. Already that seems like a lifetime ago.
It occurs to him that he is standing in the hallway. Her hand finds his, and he realises she is by his side. The light is right in front of them. It is not a torch; the thought is laughable now. It hangs in the air, swaying slightly, dimming, then glowing brightly. This close, he sees himself in its gelatinous mass, distorted but hand-in-hand with her. It has always been her. It is everything he could have wanted to see.
The light flickers, fading before their eyes. The darkness rushes in, then wavers again. His stomach turns at the smell, his trainer slipping on something wet. He could reach out and touch the light, if he wanted. It would be the easiest thing.
The orb begins to glow again, brightening, filling his eyes, and for the first time he sees behind it into the rubbery lips, the rows of teeth, the vast mouth that contains them.
As the light dulls, the mouth gapes open, wider, wider than he could have ever imagined.
Still smiling, he extends his hand into the darkness.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2016 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.
Joseph A. Pinto
Yes, your prize, your trophy, your prop for the world to behold. Framed by unflinching eyes, supported by hands unshaken. So vivid, your portrayal. Like the seasons, your dichotomy appreciated only by a clear lens and a distorted view. Yet the approaching tempest goes unnoticed; still the limbs go ravaged. Revel in the fall, revel in the winds that blow. Landscapes resculpted, reimagined by the inevitable. Yes, revel in the lie, for beneath the illusion, the splendor, remains a truth you cannot speak: you have broken the chlorophyll down. Life you present, while around you death rejoices all the while.
The Autumn Quietus
Lee A. Forman
The fresh, healthy colors turned, became the tones of decay. Dillon breathed deep the scent of rot with a complacent grin. He looked up at the trees, watched quietus sway in the cool breeze. He reveled in his hedonistic ritual; a yearly affair passed down through generations. Nothing gave him more pleasure. Harvesting the heads was a task he relished, but watching the skin turn from its once healthy pigment to greenish-blue—that gave him true joy. He sat and watched as leaves fell, waiting for the heads to follow. Human hair only held for so long after death’s claim.
I stand in place riddled with unbridled terror; it quakes my bones as I gaze out upon this gentle glade. Think me a fool for my fear? I imagine you do. Through my shutter you are gifted a calm that races my blood, hear the soothing lap at water’s edge that I am deaf to, see beauty trapped in hues I cannot allow to blind these eyes. The serenity of yawning fall holds no sway over me, for though we view the same painted landscape, you see only what is captured, whereas I hear what rustles the brush behind me.
It’s been so long since the rains poured down. My memory struggles to recall images from the past that are long gone from reality. The vivid bursts of color that once covered the landscape have become nothing more than bland blacks and grays. The lakes are now dried and shriveled like an old man’s face. We did this to ourselves but were too fucking stupid to do anything about it. Politicians gave us only twisted lies and half-truths and before we knew it, it was too late. May God help us all, at least the few of us that remain.
Veronica Magenta Nero
Many have given their lives to cleanse the lake. Our children, our elderly mothers and fathers, their faces frozen with fear and sorrow, never looking back as they walk into the oil slick swamp. They waddled in knee deep, then waist deep, then they were whisked away underneath, the foul water bubbling over them. We had stripped all life from the earth and now we pay with our blood and bone. The lake turns golden, an expanse of light, the water fresh and clean, sustaining us for a while until it begins to darken and fester once more, demanding another.
Don’t You See?
You must be out of your minds! We left our home because of drought. This place is no different! How do you expect us to survive? Farm it? The ground lacks nutrients, nothing grows. Eat from the trees? They are bare. Fish from the lake? It’s lifeless. Yet you want to settle here? Trying to make this work is a death sentence. No, I have not lost my senses. It’s you who are crazy for believing him! We must keep moving on… then follow him, you blind fools, follow him to your death. Don’t you see? We won’t survive here.
Biting wind stirred the sweet scent of autumn’s decay and ruffled its time-worn cloak. The old post creaked with his surprising heft as his black eyes, hidden underneath the straw-like hair, watched the approaching couple.
He dropped from his perch and knocked them both to the ground. The ancient being grabbed each by an ankle and started towards the hills. Their shrill cries were musical; a symphony of dread that pleased him. He would eat them both, every bit, and sleep until next autumn’s equinox brought the sound of falling leaves and bid his eternal hunger be sated yet again.
This is his country: acres of primordial forest spanning the hilltops. Time has no meaning here, marked by nothing except the changing seasons and, sometimes, the intruders who cross his invisible border. It is autumn now. He smells it in the air: rich, rank. Feels it under the pads of his feet: slippery, cold. Deadwood cracks. The camp is up ahead. Mud finds the underside of his fingernails, mixes with the blood that sometimes matts his fur and clots between his teeth. He moves heavily, hunts quickly, leaves no survivors. This is his country and here his appetite is law.
Christopher A. Liccardi
They saw the golds and reds and smelled the season in all its glory. I saw crimson and grey matter and smelled the gore; a photo negative of what everyone else witnessed.
Paint in blood; that is what I do. I painted the scene in the blood of those who came to ask me about my work. It wasn’t a needless act, no. Never think it. It was one of serenity. I took the canvas around me and colored it with the life’s blood of those who came to meet me. My next victim approached with a smile, unknowing, unsuspecting.
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