The Forever Burden
Lee A. Forman
Only at night could the tower be seen—a spectral fortress alive in darkness. Under the sun the site was an open field, but when the moon rose from its resting place, the stone went up as far as any lantern could illuminate. It seemed to touch the stars. They gathered there each midnight to offer their sorrows to the Lord. He who would cast vengeful death upon them from above. One living soul for one living day. The bargain had been set for as long as any could remember. An unending deal with an unseen God. Their forever burden…
Veronica Magenta Nero
I silence my jagged breath and press myself flat against the cold stones. They chant my name as they jostle flaming torches in the night, boots stomping, their malicious song churns in my stomach. When I close my eyes I see your throat, split open and seeping black red, your fingers trembling at the wound as your life leaked away and soaked into the earth.
They are close, they will soon capture me, a mad woman unwed, a murderous whore. I will gladly confess my crime, without guilt or regret, and for that they will torture me all the more.
A Letter from Captain William Brumley, 47th Border Guard
A new enemy has invaded our territory. Each night campfires appear outside our post. Growls echo from the woods. Twelve of my recon soldiers failed to return. During the day, all we’ve found is an abandoned camp with bloody bones, skulls on pikes. Last night, I ventured close enough to see our tormentors are feral savages cloaked in fur. Formidable beasts with snouts and tusks, archaic weapons. They greatly outnumber us. We are down to four men. We fear for our lives. Please send an army to Fort Danebury, before the Boar People eat the rest of us.
Something has changed. It is not time. My metamorphosis is not yet complete. So what has awoken me? My dark world is no longer silent or still. Echoes bounce off the ancient walls as the sounds of the living harass the dead. My joints are stiff as I emerge from my cocoon, creeping along brick foundations built by those from long ago. Up ahead I see a tiny flicker of flame dancing seductively within the confines of a lantern. Pausing, I lick the air and immediately become ravenous for the sweet yet bitter taste of humans. Let the feast begin…
The Mob Laments
John Potts Jr
“What have we done?”
The farmer collapsed. His splintered pitchfork drops and he whimpered a dull, throaty wallop. The priest lowered with lantern and blood-stained cross. “It needed to be done, for it was the will of the—”
“Damn you,” a gargantuan sort of man reached down and snatched the priest off the ground with ease. “No God would demand the death of children.”
A wiry woman pressed forward. Her eyes burned like the woeful flames set before.
“The only monster here is you,” she spat.
Her dagger glistened by moonlight above and the mob circled, still hungry for more.
Chained against the wall, the moonlight bathed me. I watched them set up camp then closed my eyes. There was nothing I could have done for my son. His neck was ripped open before I could knock the beast from him. My silver combat knife sunk in, but its teeth and claws inflicted irreversible damage to me. We all knew my final outcome. My eyes popped open and I cried out. It had begun. Vomit spewed from me as I watched my body begin to change. They’re going to sacrifice me for my meat and fur. Penance for my failure.
Offerings in the Dark
A scattering of flower petals covered the ground outside the entrance and etched symbols of protection decorated its stone archway. The people of the town considered the edifice a shrine.
A place of the dead.
Others considered it a pilgrimage.
A few steps inside, tucked in an alcove, the lanterns burned, their flickering light a monument. The faithful came each year; the fortunate said prayers and left. The rest, well…
A few more feet into the shadows and you’d find their bones. The strewn remnants of pilgrims sacrificed to the dark.
You’d also find the creature that ate those fools.
Joseph A. Pinto
Spade kisses earth; it begins.
No rites, no rituals. That privilege is lost, stripped like the clothes from your back. No box, no shroud. Nothing but a crude, dank hole.
The melody of cloven earth lulls you; your muscles grow slack against your binds. The chasm claims you; dirt now cast, one with your skin. No use in struggling, you retreat within your mind; you are a master at escape. Ignorant, they are, to the knowledge you have buried yourself within yourself so many, many times before.
How little they know you were born only to die, to rise again.
I stood beside the crypt, quivering. The crisp autumn air numbed my toes.
“See, I told you,” Rebecca hissed.
I clamped a hand over her mouth.
The procession of glowing orbs marched in front of us, making nary a sound. These were not fairies. Fairies didn’t smell of fruiting bodies. Pain and rancor emanated from the flickering lights, not magic and wonder.
I wanted to run home, but I daren’t alert them to our presence.
The burning dead went on and on, seemingly without end.
Rebecca sniffled heavily against my wet palm.
The cortege stopped.
Turned our way.
Light flickers in darkest woods, twelve flames do bob and weave. Silent as bare breath trees stand, necropolis whispers her fury. Hidden thou must remain, dangers warned ye did not heed. Voices lift on autumn breeze, and to vain ears do carry. They sing of love, they sing of life, they croon of lust and need. A rustle sounds behind squirreled niche, flesh quivers with fear profound. Claws rasp along age’ed stone, all stills on stroke of three. Ritual fulfilled as hot blood flows, twelve chalices drench in greed. Of this night I do profess, birthed to no other deed.
Christopher A. Liccardi
The merlin radiated the heat with spite. It was this place, these people it resented. The land passed that hatred on to the stone. It wanted nothing more than to drink, soak up the liquid that would flow like wine.
The revelers were dancing around the fire, as was their custom. The guests were tied to the ground by the necks, as was theirs. The axes sharpened with the bones of the previous gathering.
It was time to do what they came here for. Feed the land on the blood of the unwilling, unwitting and refresh the spirit once again.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
That crazy bitch said seven.
Seven of them, but she didn’t say which seven. She didn’t say where they were or how to find them!
Why did everything have to be so damn cryptic? He hated all the mysticism and bullshit.
Peter recalled that conversation, the last normal conversation he’d had. “Seven Devils, boy. You have to kill them all at once, or they come back.” She laughed, sticking her bony finger in his face.
“What the hell are you pointing at?” He slapped at the finger, but she was too quick. Old age had taken nothing but her looks away from her.
“I can see them,” she cackled. The last three teeth in her head were black. The urge to strangle the life out of her was overwhelming.
“I can’t see them. How can I kill what I can’t see?” he spat back at her.
“No, you choose not to see them, but they see you.” Her laughter became hysterics, her eyes watered as she cawed. She pushed back from the table trying to stand. Her back arched with decades of arthritis and rough living.
“We’re not done here!” Peter slammed his fist on the table. The crystal in the center bounced out of its holder and rolled to the edge, but it didn’t fall. The damned thing stopped itself as if out of pure defiance.
The old woman whirled around so fast, Peter saw nothing but a blur of black fabric. She pointed her gnarled finger at him again. “Don’t upset the glass, boy. There are worse things in there than your ill-tempered petulance.” She waddled back and picked up the ball, caressing its smooth surface like a lover.
“You want to rid yourself of them, you need to start from within,” she squawked, leaving the tent from the back.
Peter’s rage took hold and he stood, tossing the table aside as if it were made of balsa. He stormed after her; he was going to have another victim!
The old woman whipped around the flap where she’d left and made contact with his skull, using only that damned finger. Peter fell on his ass. His teeth smacked down on his lip, and he tasted blood.
The old woman hovered into view as Peter’s vision cleared.
“I didn’t say we were finished, boy. Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to wander through someone’s tent smashing their things?” She was an inch from his face now and he could smell the stench of those three rotting teeth.
“Take this box and hold it until midnight. Open it on the stroke of twelve and not a second before or you’ll regret it.” The old woman dropped the box into his lap. The pain was immediate. The box was ironwood and whatever was inside felt like it weighed a ton.
“Midnight and not a second before, if you know what’s good for you, now get out!” She cradled the ball in her arms and waddled back out of the tent mumbling something. He didn’t know what it was; he couldn’t speak the language but he had an idea it was derogatory.
Peter picked himself up and took hold of the box. For a moment, he had a strong urge to leave it on the floor and take off, but it passed and he walked out to his motorcycle. The bike was a used piece of shit he’d bartered for when he arrived. He needed a fast getaway; if all else failed, he’d ride all night.
He left the Wanderer’s encampment the way he’d come in; with no answers and the urge to kill seething from his fingertips.
Peter glanced at the horizon. It was well past noon, heading into dusk, and he needed to lock himself in somewhere or there wouldn’t be anything left of this old bitch or her family by sun up. The urge to kill rippled through him as he mounted the bike. This had to stop.
Peter kicked the old bike into life. Smoke billowed from the tailpipe. He hoped the bike would make it the hundred miles to his rented place before dark.
As the desert tore past him, he let his mind wander. How many had he killed so far? More than he wanted to count, but he forced himself to. He needed to stay in control of whatever this was long enough to lock himself in before he convinced himself to ride back to the camp site and…
The sound around him faded to quiet and the wind buffeting his face didn’t seem as strong. When he looked at the gauges, he broke into a cold sweat. He’d only gone twenty miles when the bike’s engine stalled. He’d never make it back in time.
All the killings played on in his head. At first, they were like a slide show; pictures without sounds, but then the images started to quicken. The slide show gave way to a stilted projection film; a shitty 8mm movie.
He watched as each successive murder got more brutal, more imaginative. Peter screamed and slammed his hands over his eyes waiting for the horror reel to stop. It didn’t stop. Hundreds of organs were ripped out, necks broken, faces torn off. Peter fell onto the desert hardpan, writhing and screaming at the horror. He blacked out.
Peter came to, slowly. His eyes opened and he could taste desert in his throat. Grit coated his face and hair. It took a minute to realize his eyes were open. Stars began to appear slowly as his eyes adjusted. He hadn’t made it to the cage in the rented house.
Peter tensed, remembering the horror film that had played over and over in his head and waited for the terrible images to start up.
No images came but the old woman’s words did. The memory of the box did.
Peter found the bike and the box and began to walk. The urge to kill was still there.
The night crept forward and he walked with his head down, waiting for the moment when he couldn’t control his impulse anymore, his devils.
The last conversation he had echoed back in his head. “…all Seven Devils, all at once.”
He’d have to find and kill them quickly but he hadn’t even figured out what they were. Something was tormenting him, pushing him to take another person’s life with no excuses and no apologies. He hated himself every minute of every day for it and he was powerless to stop.
As Peter walked deeper into the desert he felt control slipping. He decided that if the sun peaked over the horizon and he hadn’t figured out where these seven devils were, he’d kill himself. He’d use the ironwood box and smash himself over the head or leap off a mesa. He’d run straight at the edge, close his eyes and let go.
Hours passed and Peter walked. The images returned but they were low compared to the bloodlust he felt. His legs hurt but he kept on walking, head down. He started to mumble to himself but he didn’t know when.
His sanity slipped away with each passing step. The urge to find someone to kill and the need for this to be over pulled in equal measure.
The end was coming, one way or the other. He looked out at the dark background for a place to jump and saw nothing. He didn’t know what time it was.
He stopped walking and held the box out. Something in him screamed to drop it, run for the encampment, but he held onto it as if his life depended on it.
The old crone’s voice spoke up over the babble, “Open it boy, and see what’s inside.” She cackled, echoing across the desert.
Peter opened the box and stared. It held a gun and a single bullet. What the fuck was he supposed to do with one bullet?
“You said seven, you bitch!”
“Seven indeed, boy. It’ll come to you if you want it to,” she said, not unkindly.
Peter looked at the gun in the box and then at the bullet. It wasn’t silver and appeared normal, but the math didn’t work. He had to kill seven of something with one bullet.
He plucked the bullet out of the box and then the gun. He threw the box to the ground and glared at the solution, not seeing it yet.
How the hell was he supposed to… His thought trailed off. The voices all stopped and so did the images. The emptiness was staggering and he took a step back.
“You said seven, you old bitch.” Peter laughed again. He laughed until his eyes watered.
“It starts from within,” he said and looked for the moon. It was time.
A single gunshot echoed across the flat desert land as seven devils died, all at once, altogether.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.
Daddy, Daddy! Look! It’s snowing. Can we go out and play?”
Ophelia giggled and pressed her face close to the windowpane, staring at the flakes descending from the sky. She traced her chubby finger along the frost touched glass, waiting for an answer.
It never came.
Her silent father only sat in his high-backed chair and gulped another mouthful of Scotch. He stared into the flames crackling in the fireplace, ignoring anything else. When he drained the glass, he poured himself another drink.
Impatient, Ophelia sighed and climbed down from her window ledge perch. She glided out of the room in search of her mother. She found her in the kitchen washing dishes.
“It’s snowing, Mummy. Can we go play in the snow?”
Her mother never looked at her, simply kept at her task, and Ophelia sighed again. “No one pays attention to me anymore.” She tried stamping her foot. It did no good. She pouted and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I want to play in the snow!”
Still no response. Her mother stood at the sink, washing a teacup, oblivious to her daughter’s tantrum. Dejected, Ophelia gave up and wandered upstairs to her room. She didn’t like going there anymore, but it had the best view of the back yard.
Entering, she gave a little sighing whisper. “It’s so empty now. I wish Mummy hadn’t taken all my things away.”
Then she smiled. At least her own small chair still stood by the window. Ophelia walked past the crisply made bed and curled up in its seat. She laid her hand on the frosty glass and watched the snow fall. She loved the soft quiet of it, its gentle flutter as it blanketed the ground; remembered the crisp, cold touch of it on her tongue.
She gazed at the snow until the edges of night crept past the sun.
Voices from downstairs finally pulled her attention away. Her parents were arguing. Again. She slipped from the chair and ventured to the top of the stairs. Below her, in the hallway, the pair were screaming at each other.
“God, you’re drunk again! That’s all you ever do now! Sit in that damn room and drink! You smell like a goddamn distillery! What happened to you?”
“You know what happened! I’m sorry I didn’t handle it as well as you! Prancing about, like our fucking life didn’t fall apart! I’m not as cold-hearted as you I guess!”
“At least I’m not running away and jumping head first into a bottle!”
“Stop it!” An anguished cry rose from Ophelia’s throat. “Why are you always fighting? Why can’t it be like before?” She practically flew down the stairs and sped past her parents into her father’s sanctuary. She curled into a ball in the corner and waited until the angry voices stopped.
She looked up as her father entered and flopped in his chair. He poured himself a drink, as her mother trailed him to the doorway, hesitating to come all the way in.
“Another drink? Predictable.” The mother’s face scrunched into a look of contempt. “I don’t understand, when did you turn into such a coward? What do you get out of it? Why do you sit here, night after night, drinking yourself into oblivion? It isn’t healthy.” She took a step closer, her voice softening. “She’s gone. Ophelia’s gone. You need to face it.”
From across the room, Ophelia gasped, her little form shaking. “Shush, Mummy, shush! Don’t say such things!”
The man in the chair looked up, and stared. His grip on the glass of Scotch tightened.
Ophelia’s mother continued, “Wake up! Our daughter’s been dead a year, and brooding here won’t bring her back.”
Ophelia whined, her face suddenly pale, and translucent. She whispered. “No. No! I’m not, Mummy, I’m not! I’m right here.”
Her father turned his head slightly, looking away from Ophelia’s mother.
That enraged the woman and she screamed, “Did you hear me? I said wake up! Our daughter’s dead! Time to face it!”
For a moment the air in the room seemed to slow, and every breath sounded large and lingering. Then Ophelia screeched, “I won’t listen anymore! I’m not dead!” The child rushed to her father’s side. “You’re upsetting Daddy!”
Her father’s face seemed to pale at her words, and Ophelia rested her head against his chair, so close she could smell the whiskey. “Don’t listen to her, Daddy. I’m here. I’ll always be here. I promised.”
Her father took a gulp of liquor and stared at Ophelia’s mother. She stared back, words tumbling from her mouth, “Why? Why are you torturing yourself? I don’t think I can take this much longer.”
“I don’t know why.” His voice barely sounded above a murmur. “I understand she’s dead. I was there in the hospital same as you. It’s just… sometimes I can feel her. Feel her in this room with me, like she’s talking to me.”
Ophelia laid her little hand on his arm. Her father shivered. “It’s all right, Daddy. I’m still here. I didn’t go. Don’t listen to Mummy. I promised I’d stay. You remember, that night in the hospital. I promised not to go. And I didn’t. I’ll stay with you forever and ever. Right here with you. For always.”
Her father took another drink, and closed his eyes. “I think I’m losing my mind. I swear sometimes I can hear her voice calling to me. Calling to her Daddy.”
Ophelia smiled, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Forever and always, Daddy.”
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.