I sit curled up next to the fireplace, my head resting against the surround. A goblet of heavy Merlot in my hand; heavy for its body or heavy for my longing, I cannot say. As I stare into the crackling blaze, my mind wanders. So many memories from years gone by, so much love shared here, in this very room. My soul shrieks with grief as I collapse into a ball, no longer able to hold myself upright; no longer able to stem the wracking sobs.
The fire now a blur through swollen wet eyes, my head lolls and I glance toward the tree with its twinkling lights, glittering ornaments and brightly wrapped packages tucked neatly below. You always were such a perfectionist. My eyes flutter shut as the day you dressed the tree forces itself upon my mind. You were so happy, so excited to pick the largest pine available. I recall joking that one of us would have to move out so the tree could move in. You kissed me with icy cold lips and a bright red nose. Little did I know how soon I would long to feel that frigid touch once more. Your enthusiasm knowing no bounds, you spent the entire day arranging everything just so; making sure the colorful glass baubles were placed with precision, everything to an exacting measure. I’d playfully moved a strand of tinsel while you weren’t watching, only to reenter the room moments later to find it placed back in its original position.
The gifts. Oh, how you tortured me over the gifts long before the season began. A sad smile steals across my lips as I think of the hours you spent fretting over the perfect surprise for each of our friends. As I sip from my glass, a slight chuckle escapes me only to end in a bleat of pain as I recall how you stressed over wrapping each gift in the perfect color foil. God, how you loved this day.
I think back upon the last evening I saw you. I was standing at the island between this room and the kitchen preparing dinner; you remembered one final detail you couldn’t do without. I kissed you as you bounded past me, told you not to be long and that I loved you. You grabbed your coat from the hook, turned to me with purse in hand, golden locks bouncing, and smiled before replying as you always did – not nearly the way I love you. I smiled back; you left. Two hours later, a knock sounded. I wasn’t worried, you often became infatuated with something or other and lost track of time or misplaced your keys. As I moved to open the front door, I noticed the bare flicker of red and blue light drifting in from the balcony. Seeing the officers standing at the threshold, I turned and walked to the glass, placed my forehead to it, and knew in that moment… you were gone. I woke lying upon the couch. The officers explained there’d been an accident at the corner – our corner; a young woman had been hit by a car that ran the red light. You were that young woman.
My eyes crack open seeking a red light on the tree, your tree – our tree. But instead, my sight finds the red fairy lights you used to decorate the balcony. Barely able to stand, I stumble to the sliding doors. As I fumble to open them through my tears, the Merlot in my glass pours onto the white carpet. My addled mind tells me how angry you’ll be if I don’t clean the deep burgundy spill right away; my breath hitches, another sob escapes me. Finally managing the lock, I step through onto the bitterly cold veranda. Standing at the rail, I exist in a halo of red light, my long chestnut mane whipping in the wind; the flush on my cheeks all but gone in a tinted haze. Another balcony, the one next to ours, is adorned in blue twinkling lights. I wonder why I’d not noticed it before. The blue and red lights blur together as my inebriated mind struggles to adjust. Five stories below, more lights glitter, cars rush past; the ground wears a fresh blanket of snow. I’m so tired, and the blanket seems so inviting. Please, don’t go without me – words I should have spoken that night. Letting myself lean forward, the world pitches as my mind screams for release from this sorrow, begs me to join you. I grasp the railing, sink to my knees and crawl back inside. Too much a coward to follow you; too devoted to allow your memory to die.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. Revised 2016. All Rights Reserved.
The black disk spun as the music enthralled its listeners. It spoke a language more beautiful than any human tongue. It sang in sweet tones of joy and cried in wails of sorrow as the symphony progressed. Like a puppet master deftly maneuvering strings, it directed bodies as they danced with grace, ever mindful of the next movement, the next step.
Only when the needle was lifted did they stop. The Victrola was the instrument, Mr. Harold Snyde, the conductor.
His guests had been invited to his home under false pretense of a dinner party; one which could be described as nothing short of an unmitigated success.
After dessert, he invited those gathered into the parlor for a musical interlude. When he placed the recording onto the spinning table and set the needle into the disc’s carved groove, they all began to dance. He knew they would. He’d tested it on his late wife prior to her passing of heart failure. An unfortunate occurrence, for her. But not for Mr. Snyde. He inherited her vast fortune, and the aforementioned record player.
When Mrs. Snyde had still been among the living, he’d found it buried deep in the attic behind old crates and piles of books no one would ever read again. He pulled it out, dusted it off, and brought it downstairs.
“What are you doing with that old thing?” she’d questioned with disdain.
“What do you mean, dear? I’m setting it up so I can listen to my records.”
“Why don’t you just buy a new one? We hardly need to reuse junk from the attic,” she’d clucked, barely disguising her distaste.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he placed a record on the player and turned it on. She began to dance, and dance, and dance; a strange expression painted on her face, as if fear struck her ill.
“I thought you hated my choice of music?” he asked her prancing form.
She didn’t reply.
“Lynn, what has gotten into you?”
Still her mouth uttered no words.
He crossed his arms and watched her sway and whirl around the room without stopping. He let it go on for some time before raising the arm off the record.
She stopped dancing and blinked a few times. “What… What just happened?”
“You were dancing! It was wonderful!”
“I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to dance. I don’t understand.”
“Let’s try it again, shall we?” Harold said, and turned the music back on.
She’d begun to raise a palm, to tell him to wait, but the music took over and sent her twirling about like a ballerina. He sat and watched in fascination from his favorite reading chair, smiling at her frame as it seemed to glide about the room as if weightless.
As she went on and on without end, he wondered how long the player would have an effect. He soon had his answer; she danced until she died several hours later.
Before the police and ambulance arrived, he dredged up old memories to proffer genuine tears. He didn’t want to appear apathetic or distracted. Tissue in hand, he wiped his eyes while the paramedics took her body away and the officers questioned him. It worked perfectly. There was no need for them to know those tears weren’t for his deceased wife, but for his beloved dog, Ralph, who’d passed when he was a boy.
Now, no one suspected a thing; not the police, nor his current guests. He presumed they all believed him in need of company. He was, after all, alone in such a large house, with a wife so recently in the ground and no children to share his grief. It had only been a week since the death of Mrs. Snyde, yet the vultures gathered had jumped at the opportunity to console the wealthy widower; the same gaggle who wouldn’t have bothered to utter his name prior to his wife’s passing.
He reveled in watching the contorted faces of his guests as they moved around the room with more grace than they ever would on their own. He wondered how long they’d last. Would they drop one by one? Would they all die around the same time? He wished he could bet on who would be the first to go, but there wasn’t anyone to take up the offer. It mattered little; he was having the time of his life. Watching those rich bitch-hogs dance uncontrollably gave him pleasure, and watching their lives give out would give him even more. They’d done him wrong and in return, he was going to do them right.
He watched Gerald, his legs bending and swaying, hips moving in sync with Barbara. The two socialite bastards had always talked behind his back. He’d seen them laughing with eyes pointed in his direction at the company Christmas party the previous year. Lynn had stood with them, probably telling them how he’d pissed his money away with a bladder full of drink.
There will be fewer attendees at the party this year, he thought with maniacal glee.
Henna and Charles, the investment dynamic-duo, or so they claimed. They looked to be the first to go. He saw their eyes droop, watched as their mouths hung open, a stream of unbecoming drool leaked freely onto each of their chins. Their arms swung loosely at their sides, propelled only by the movement of their hips, which no longer held any rhythm.
When he looked at their unsteady feet he laughed; the carpet had worn flat from the constant shuffling of their shoes. It had been Lynn’s favorite rug, worth quite a bit of money. I’d trade that floor rag for a bucket of dirt any day, he groused in his mind.
The soon to be deceased couple had lost him money time and again in fruitless endeavors. No more. That rug will be the last of your expenses.
Max still moved at a steady, upbeat pace. Mr. Snyde figured he’d be the last to drop. Max hadn’t done anything in particular to deserve such a merciless fate, he just didn’t like the mook bastard.
He poured himself a glass of whiskey and raised it to his guests. “Thank you all for coming! I’m having a wonderful time!” He laughed and sipped his drink.
By the time he’d gone through five or six pours—he couldn’t remember how many—Max was the only one left standing. The clock read quarter of five. “Damn sun will be rising soon. We’d better call this party quits. Show yourselves out. Oh, wait… That’s right, you can’t!” He chuckled and spilled whiskey with a wavering hand. “Hurry up and die, won’t you, Max. I need rid myself of the lot of you. Can’t have you stinking up the place.”
Max’s eyes pleaded with him. Their sorrowful look begged to be released, ached to be set free.
“Can’t go back now, buddy. Sorry.”
He reached for an iron rod from the fireplace, swung it hard. Max went down like the market crash of ’29.
He lifted the needle from the record for some peace and quiet while he piled the bodies together on the rug. When he attempted to pick Max up, he heard soft grumbles emanating from the man’s throat. The blow to the back of his head hadn’t killed him. “What’s that you say? Speak up, boy!”
Mr. Snyde thought he heard a profane remark as he hoisted Max up by putting his arms under his shoulders, but the young man’s speech was still unintelligible. “What’s that now?”
Max’s hand reached out just far enough to push the needle back onto the vinyl disc and the music started to play.
Releasing his hold on Max, Mr. Harold Snyde began to dance…
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved
Jenkins sat in his reclining chair, extended the footrest and closed his eyes.
Sleep was something he found hard to come by. Just up the road from his trailer was Old Man Fredericks’s farm. The smells from that place were bad enough; damp hay and tons of shit lingering in the air.
Most of all, it was the noises that drove Jenkins bat shit.
Those fucking pigs were constantly grunting and squealing.
His clothes, skin and hair still smelled of smoke, reminding him of camping trips to the beach with Beth when they still dated.
He grinned, replaying the image of the barn going up, the flames dancing over it, consuming the structure and its occupants.
Jenkins opened his eyes and flicked at his jeans, noting the dry blood soaked into the denim.
It had only taken one swing with the first piglet to kill, smashing it on the asphalt. The second piglet, however, was tougher. After three hard whacks against the road it still squealed, despite blood pouring from its split skull.
When he set the damn thing on the ground to finish off, the piglet tried to dart off. Jenkins snapped all four of its limbs to keep it from running away then stomped the piglets head until it caved in, leaving a mix of skin, bone, brain and snout.
It had been great.
Sleep quickly crept up on him.
My god it’s quiet.
Jenkins couldn’t remember a sleep as relaxing as the one he just had. Stretching, he released a big yawn. His body was relaxed, rejuvenated and-
He was in a bed.
Looking around, he quickly realized that he was no longer in his living room. Where the fuck was he? He threw the covers back and climbed out.
The king size bed dominated most of the bedroom. A white dresser stood against the wall to his right while a simple desk with a lamp on it was the left.
Jenkins headed towards the slightly ajar door, noting the light spilling in through the gap. Pulling it open he could see a spiral staircase in a dark room but at the bottom was another open door which was the source of the light.
Jenkins made his way down the staircase but when he reached the bottom step, he stopped.
There was a sound.
A familiar sound.
A pig was grunting in the next room.
Jenkins stepped off the staircase through the doorway.
He was on a balcony where an adult pig was on all fours, sniffing around the railings. Just to his right was a glass case that said Break In Case Of Fire containing a hose along with an axe.
Beyond the balcony railing was complete darkness.
The pig stopped sniffing when it noticed him and met his gaze.
If Jenkins thought the grunting and squealing was bad, what he heard next was almost too much to bear.
“Hello there,” the pig said.
Even though it spoke words, it was a poor attempt at mimicking a human, as the sound was still pig. Its voice was grotesque and terrifying.
Jenkins could not speak.
“Oh come on now, don’t be shy. Why, we’ve been neighbors for so long we’re practically best friends. My name is Howard.” The sound of the pig’s tongue rolling over its teeth as it pronounced each word made Jenkins cringe. “I’ll save you the trouble of asking. Yes, you are dreaming.”
Jenkins turned to leave but the doorway was gone, replaced by a brick wall. He reached out and tried to push the wall out of the way to no avail.
“It won’t budge,” Howard said. The voice changed, darkening. “You’re in here with us.”
Looking around frantically, Jenkins remembered the glass case. Without hesitating, he punched through the glass, grabbing the axe.
“Oh, come on now, buddy. What are you doing with that?”
Jenkins swung the axe as hard as he could, bringing the blade down on Howard’s head. The blade punched through skin and bone, before coming to a stop in the brain.
It was an awful sound, much worse than the spoken words, resembling a human wail penetrated by pig vocals. Jenkins released his grip on the axe, covering his ears.
Within seconds the screaming stopped, replaced by laughter. Howard stood up on his hind hooves and clutched his belly, gasping for breath as he laughed.
“Oh Jenkins,” Howard exclaimed as blood ran down his face. “Do you really think you can hurt us here in our own domain?”
“It’s just a dream,” Jenkins muttered. “It’s just a fucking dream.”
“Just keep telling yourself that, buddy. We all love a good laugh.” He gestured beyond the balcony railing as light slowly dawned in the darkness like the opening of a Broadway show.
There was movement but as the light grew brighter he saw them.
They were scurrying around back and forth on a carpeted floor that was enclosed by old wood paneled walls. Covering his nose, the air quickly became thick with the smell of pig shit and something else.
It was familiar yet he could not put his finger on it.
“What do you think?” Howard asked, the axe still embedded in his head.
Jenkins clutched his temples and shook his head. “It’s time to wake up. Wake up, Jenkins.”
“One two three WAKE UP!”
Howard’s voice darkened even more. “You’re here for the whole show.” And he laughed.
Reaching up with its hoof, Howard dislodged the axe and tossed it off of the balcony.
Jenkins realized the pigs on the floor were no longer scurrying around. Their movements were more deliberate and less animalistic and then they stopped altogether.
The room went silent.
One by one, the pigs looked up; each of them staring directly into Jenkins’ eyes. The shit smell was dissipating and the other aroma cut through, becoming more distinct. With every set of eyes on him, Jenkins recognized the smell.
All at once, the pigs began screaming.
It was deafening and even more horrific than the lone scream when he had buried the axe in Howard’s head. As he watched, the pigs’ skin began to sizzle and bubble up into blisters, roasted by invisible flames.
Their skin then began to fuse together, absorbing one another.
“Wake up… wake up…” Jenkins cried.
Howard laughed even more and flipped himself over the balcony railing. He landed on the floor below where he began to merge with the other pigs.
“What do you think, Jenkins?” Howard asked, growing in size as he assimilated the others.
Intermixed with the screaming was a wet sucking sound. Although the bodies were absorbing one another, all the pigs’ heads remained.
It was massive.
Standing before him was an ungodly being comprised of burnt and charred pigs. It stood on two legs with Howard acting as the head.
The abomination was tall enough that Howard was at Jenkins’ eye level.
“There is no waking up from this, my friend,” he roared. “You see, we’re Tormentors. We feed on the enjoyment people get out of heinous and cruel acts. By taking the forms of the tortured, we invade the dreams of the torturers exacting revenge. It’s why we exist. Or looking at it another way, it’s how we get our kicks.”
The mass raised its arms.
On the end of each one was a piglet. The one on the left had a split skull while on the right, the piglet had no head; just a gory pulp of pig flesh.
They were the ones he killed on the road.
Jenkins turned away, screaming, looking for a way out.
The mass reached over the balcony, grabbing him by the legs. It yanked hard, tripping Jenkins onto the balcony floor, then lifting him into the air upside down where it held him for a second.
“Ready?” Howard sneered.
Without waiting, the mass whipped Jenkins into the air then swung down as hard as it could.
Jenkins smacked the carpeted floor with a muffled thud. The blow knocked him senseless.
“How about another try?”
Again, Jenkins was raised into the air and struck hard against the floor. This time, pain exploded through his body as he felt his right shoulder and rib cage shatter upon impact.
He cried out, gasping for air, blood filling his mouth.
All of the pigs began to squeal with delight. The mass lifted his broken body up again but this time held him close.
“It’s been a slice, buddy, but we’ve worked up a bit of an appetite.”
The mass pressed Jenkins against its body as the many pig mouths began tearing into his flesh, ripping chunks away.
Jenkins opened his eyes.
He was sitting in his reclining chair in the living room of his trailer.
Just a dream.
Sighing a breath of relief, pain exploded through his body.
The entire right side screamed in agony. He could taste iron as blood filled his mouth. Looking down, his chest and stomach were torn open with his entrails slipping out onto the floor.
As he raised his head, he looked out the living room window to a face looking in at him.
It was Howard.
Grinning, Howard licked his lips and said, “Oh we’re not done yet, buddy boy. We’re called Tormentors for a reason. You don’t get to wake up from this one.”
The squeals of many pigs filled the room as one of the mass’s arms smashed through the front door, reaching toward Jenkins.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
MacPhersonville cemetery surrounded the town and was populated by the bones of early settlers. No one wanted to be buried there anymore, the modern crematorium had become the trend, but it was Frank Charles MacPherson the Third’s wish that he be buried alongside his ancestors. The MacPherson line had founded MacPhersonville; they were practically royalty.
Rumours that the cemetery was unhallowed ground were common. Many strange incidents had taken place there.
“Nonsense!” snapped Mrs. Emma Anne MacPherson, the matriarch, when family members whispered in her ear that the cemetery was cursed.
“My dear old Frank wants to be buried there and I shan’t hear another word to the contrary.”
On the morning of the service guests deliberated whether or not they should attend. They fingered neckties, fiddled with black veils, they smoothed creases on black trousers and skirts, but they knew they had to put in an appearance. It wasn’t any old corpse being laid to rest, it was the corpse of MacPherson the Third. Nobody wanted to be ostracised by the MacPhersons.
The large ornate gates of the cemetery creaked shut and slammed as the catch fell into place. Two ironwork angels faced each other, their trumpets held high. They were rusted orange, the white paint long gone. Mrs Barbara De Laverio, the town baker and the last of the funeral party to shuffle in, shivered as the gates shut behind her. She stared at the angels suspiciously, but she took a deep breath and held her tongue.
The coffin was covered by an arrangement of lilies and white roses, proud courtesy of Mrs. Edith Birkingham, the town florist. It was carried slowly by the bearers; followed by the Reverend James Peter, Reverend Jacob and Reverend Nathaniel. The small town had a high number of clergy posted there. No one wanted to ask why all three priests were present that day. They led the procession, their hands clasped within bell sleeves.
Sigmund, the groundskeeper, lurked out of view as the funeral party entered. He realised in despair that the entire town had shown up for the service.
Sigmund squeezed his eyes shut. It had been a long time since he had received an order to dig. The previous night, it had come again, accompanied by the heaviness on his chest, skin burning, ringing in his ears.
“Wake up boy and get to work! It’s time to dig!” roared the voice.
It rattled inside his head, a delighted cackle. There was nothing Sigmund could do to resist. He had been bound to the Guardian of the cemetery many years ago and was not able to venture beyond the gates. He had watched everyone he knew meet their inevitable end. Camped in squalor in the tiny caretaker’s cottage, he was the only living thing that wandered the rows of crumbling headstones. The other occupants of the cemetery were the souls of the dead.
The funeral party made their way along the gravel road, up the hill to the open plot. The congregation gathered around quietly. Reverend James Peter began the sermon.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to lay to rest a great man, great great grandson of our founding father, Frank Charles MacPherson. He was the pinnacle of our good community, a respected businessman, a loving father and husband….”
As the Reverend spoke the coffin began to tremble. From within came a long muffled groan. Mrs. Emma Anne Macpherson sat stunned in the front row, an embroidered handkerchief pressed to her nose.
Reverend James Peter paused and the three priests exchanged anxious looks. The young Reverend Nathaniel took a few steps back, frightened already. Reverend Jacob nodded seriously to Reverend James Peter. Best to cut the babble and get to the important stuff. Reverend James Peter began making the sign of the cross over the coffin and continued.
“Rest in peace Frank Charles Macpherson the Third, in the name of the Father and of the…”
The coffin rocked again, this time more violently.
“Fucking hell!” swore Reverend Nathaniel.
The coffin exploded with a loud crack. Sharp chunks of wood flew at the priests, red blotches quickly staining their white robes.
Old man MacPherson sat upright on his cushioned satin, staring ahead with milky eyes. His mouth dropped open as if in surprise, then he turned to face his family.
Mrs. MacPherson broke into hysterical squeals and the man who was once her husband chuckled.
The crowd began to disperse, screams erupting.
Sigmund had crept closer to watch, peering from behind a tree.
The Guardian had come. The Guardian would claim everyone.
“You can’t run, you can’t run.” He muttered, a yellow puddle growing at his feet.
The sun eclipsed; the sky darkened. People were lifted into the air as they fled, they spun slowly like flies caught in a web.
Frank Charles Macpherson the Third climbed out; he dusted off his grey suit and straightened his blue silk tie.
“What a special day!” he said “All of us together again!”
His wife sobbed into her handkerchief; the MacPherson clan cowered around her.
“Our Father who art in heaven…”
Reverend Jacob rambled as he sprinkled holy water, shards of wood embedded in his chest and thigh.
“Shut up, fool!” roared Frank and sent the priest flying with a wave of his arm. “Neither God nor the Devil himself cares about this hole of a town! I am Guardian and Reaper, the only afterlife that awaits you is within my gates!”
The MacPhersons screamed and huddled closer. They watched in terror as Frank Charles MacPherson the Third was torn apart from the inside. His arms popped out of their sockets. His torso split, rib cage stretching, stomach bursting, entrails gushing. The old man’s face cracked in half, blood seeping before his skull exploded. The jelly of dead brains wobbled through the air. The demon emerged from the carnage, a huge reptilian creature with moist black wings.
“The city of the damned comes alive once more! Come forth my minions! Feast! Frolic!” He stretched his wings to their full length and rose to the darkened heavens.
A cacophony of groans began as souls rose from their graves. They could be seen in the eerie unnatural light, grey wraiths that reeled through the air. Ancient skeletons began to push and crawl their way out of the earth. They dangled and swayed, dressed in dirty tatters.
The bodies pinned in the air rained from the sky and plummeted to the ground. The wraiths howled in excitement as they flew towards them, diving and taking possession. The mangled bodies rose, arms and legs twisted, necks broken.
The dead feasted on the living and the living began to feast on each other. Latent passions were sparked and grudges were fuelled. The butcher’s wife turned on her husband’s mistress, wrestling her to the ground, grinning as she strangled and pounded her head to pulp. The postman and the librarian tumbled onto the nearest slab of marble. Foaming at the mouth, they tore at more than clothes, ripping chunks of hair, gouging eyes.
The demon streaked through the blackened sky, his laughter a deep rumble that rattled the earth.
The skeletons of Frank Charles MacPherson the First and Second lurched towards the MacPhersons who remained huddled together by the desecrated grave. They pointed at them, growing agitated, their jawless skulls bobbing wordlessly. They would not be able to protect their family from the horde that was advancing.
A macabre flock of bedevilled bodies stumbled up the hill towards them. They fell upon the screaming MacPhersons, gnawing at flesh and drinking the bloodline of their founding fathers. The most perverse of hatred was reserved for the dying bodies of the priests.
Night clung to the cemetery; it became a timeless realm. The possessed tormented and molested each other, revelling in arousal and repulsion. Sigmund watched in fascination, and soon abandoned himself to the frenzy of sex and violence.
Freshly murdered souls drifted earthbound, gazing upon their own slaughtered remains. Their agony echoed on the wind, drifting through the empty town and across the mountains.
Eventually stillness fell, the dark skies cleared and a weak sun emerged, shining dimly upon the cemetery.
“Keep digging my boy!” laughed the demon as he whipped Sigmund with his tail. Sigmund was beyond all inkling of humanity by then, grunting and drooling in the mud as he dug furiously with both hands, naked but for the dry blood that coated his body. It was the biggest pit he ever had to dig, a massive open grave into which he dragged the mutilated corpses that lay scattered about.
MacPhersonville still stands today, a derelict town in the middle of nowhere, subject of many a ghost story.
No one is certain how the town people all strangely vanished. Their homes and stores were found abandoned yet orderly. A long trail of cars remains parked outside the cemetery, an empty funeral hearse at the front. It appears as if the whole town entered the cemetery and disappeared. It is said that if you visit MacPhersonville Cemetery at certain times of year, at the equinoxes or a rare blue moon, it becomes a buzzing necropolis, alive with the debauchery of the dead, but none who dare venture beyond the gates ever return to tell their tale.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.