Archive | August 2017

At Peace

The abomination stirred in its crypt as Mortimer chanted the words he’d learned as a child. It was the only thing his mother had given him before she died. She had a son through some form of sorcery or witchcraft. Mortimer had no father because of it. He hated her for that.

The beast lumbered forward on stalks nearly twenty feet high. Its knuckles were jointed backward and it moved like a bat. The body of his new servant was as short as a halfling dangling like a teat between its legs.

“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” Mortimer asked quietly. He was terrified of what he’d just awoken and tried to keep it from his voice. The magic was never his focus, never his passion. That was what his mother loved more than anything else in the world.

“FFEEARR!” it shrieked. The sound echoed off the vaulted ceilings.

“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” He boomed back at the beast. His fingers lay around his mother’s gold chain about his neck. It was hers before she died and it brought this thing to life. He was ready to rip it off and kill this creature if it tried to kill him.

“I ssserveee,” it chittered back.

The thing walked into the light coming from the demon hole in the ceiling. It wanted to be seen, to be felt. It craved the pale glow from above.

Mortimer hadn’t seen it fully until now. The body resembled something almost human with its deformed legs and two muscled little arms. The left limb rotted off over time; shreds of sinew and bone stuck out like a decayed corpse. The right was whole and the little hand gripped a knife made of bone and rotted flesh. Mortimer couldn’t see the face. He thanked the devil himself for at least that small mercy.

“I bid you kill those who oppose me,” Mortimer commanded the creature. The words hung there for a long moment, unanswered. He was about to ask again when the thing lowered itself to the floor. Its legs folded at the knuckles and the little body came to rest on its stunted legs. It began to waddle toward him.

Mortimer’s grip on the chain tightened the slightest bit and the demon stopped.

“Kiiiillllll,” it hissed.

Mortimer could see the melted flesh on its face and body. It was an ancient horror. Its one eye socket was filled with a stinking putrescence of fetid liquid that dripped to the stone floor.

Mortimer watched the hand that held a knife, waiting to see if the demon would attack him. He was scared, but not enough.

The demon’s stench made him gag and he stepped back, trying to find some cleaner air. “Feeedddd!” the thing said in a winging insectile voice and Mortimer stepped back again.

The demon thing waddled closer to him, slowly. Its head lowered. Mortimer knew the terror it inflicted on the living and he smiled at the thought of his victim’s impending demise.

“I have marked those who need to be killed. You can find them if you look. Do you understand?” he asked. The demon lifted its head and stared directly at him.

“Feeeddd,” it said again. It opened its maw revealing three fangs inside a rotting skull. Mortimer could smell its breath and the urge to vomit grew. His gorge climbed in his throat, but he forced himself to choke it back. He would not add to the reek of this place.

“You will feed, demon. You will hunt,” Mortimer said. The demon looked about, swiveling its head from side to side, scenting the air around it. How could it find prey with its own rotting flesh smell pervading everything around it?

“Go and hunt for those who stand in my way and return once you’ve had your fill,” he said. He wanted to turn and walk away but he didn’t think it wise to give this monstrosity such an easy target to start with.

“Dieeeee…” the demon hissed back.

The thing lifted itself back to its full height and waited for a moment, scenting the air again. Mortimer’s hand relaxed from the chain just a bit. He stepped back again, giving the demon space enough to leap away and begin its hunt. He wanted to see it fly off, to be rid of this thing. He had already picked the window he would look out from and listen to the sounds of the creature feeding on its victims.

The beast let out a shriek and began to amble toward him. It lurched forward, leaning its little body into the stride. Mortimer clasped his hands over his ears at the sound, releasing his mother’s chain.

It sprung, landing directly over top of him, and the knife slashed outward in a fury. The first cut took the top of Mortimer’s head off at the scalp, leaving his skull exposed to the moonlight. He began to scream, tasting the blood flowing down his face. The beast returned his scream with another shriek and knocked him onto his back.

The stalk-like legs twisted and its talons drove through his shoulders, pinning him in place. The creature lowered itself once again to the ground and stood on top of Mortimer’s heaving chest. Gouts of blood poured from his skull as the beast settled.

The demon raised the knife again and slashed Mortimer’s throat. It opened veins on both sides of his neck and the screaming stopped. The demon let its rotten tongue lap at the blood welling up in the slit it made. Mortimer’s revulsion hit him again in a wave as he watched the demon lift the knife again and slide the blade under the chain. He tried to move his arms but nothing happened.

The creature lowered itself to a kneeling position, its face dangling inches above Mortimer’s.

“Miineeeee…” it said softly and slashed Mortimer’s head from his body. The gold chain slid down the stump of neck into the pool of blood. The beast dropped the knife and let its little fingers caress the fine gold chain before picking it up.

The demon released Mortimer’s arms, kicking itself free. His body twitched a few times and then stopped. The last of his blood pumped onto the moonlit circle as the creature walked back to the crypt it came from. Tracks of red traced its path back across the cold stone as it righted itself into its resting place and turned to face the light. The mouth in the center of the wrecked face opened and it swallowed the chain. It stuck on one jagged bone tooth for a second, then slipped into the demon’s gut.
“Peaaceee…” it whispered into the tomb.

∼ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christopher A. Liccardi All Rights Reserved.
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Carnival

An ink stained night and a canopy of silver stars welcomed the rumble and clank of trucks and the smoking smell of diesel engines. Headlights slithered through the darkness as the line of ramshackle vehicles lumbered onto the fairgrounds and split the silence with belching exhaust fumes and the whine of old gears.

From the shadows I watched, under an old oak tree. My favourite type of tree. It’s a bit like me, a constant in a strange and evolving world. Much like this parade of carnival trucks. Old souls in a world passing them over.

Remnants clinging to hope against death and obscurity.

Perhaps that’s why I come, why I seek out these bits of forgotten eras. Nostalgic indulgence. So much of this world is loud and frantic, full of stress and panic. While I enjoyed those whispers of fear, sometimes I needed quiet reflection. Time to savour the memories, and contemplate my future.

Movement caught my attention, and dispersed my musing. I inhaled the pungent smell of animals and listened to the chatter as the carnies raised their tents and bolted the amusement booths together. I relished the clanging music of the hammers and the hoarse shouts, waiting for it all to blossom into a garish, colour-filled extravaganza. A wonder, this overnight eruption of nomadic fair, this constructed arena of entertainment. Perhaps a bit faded around the edges, or tattered by too many days on the road, but still such a treat.

I love their camaraderie and tradition. So human. So unmindful of the darkness.

I lifted my hand and let the starlight play against the skin. Fingers trembled slightly, a warning. A battering heartbeat fluttered, thumping erratically inside this chest. I sighed. My time was nearly done with this one. Regret mingled with anticipation. A new life about to begin, built on the death of the old one. I’ve worn many guises over my lifetime, been many people. Male, female, child, elderly.

A shame the hosts don’t last longer. Still, we had a good run, he and I.

I let the memory of our first encounter play out in his mind. Two towns west of here, at a harvest fair. The moonlight bathed the amusement rides the night before and the sun rose on a beautiful fall day. I wore a younger skin then; a restless, awkward teenager that accepted his fate too easily.

I never fit that host. I prefer them with more fight.

Perhaps that caused the difficult time in choosing that year; it took me hours to find a new skin. Searching among the rides and games, lingering, appraising, breathing in the smell of cotton candy and funnel cake. A fruitless hunt until I ventured past the noise and wandered near the edge of the carnival grounds. I knew the moment I spied him, he was the one.

Blond, blue-eyed, rugged. A perfect specimen enjoying a smoke behind a tree.

I left my failing host in a surge of black fire and passion, strangely heedless of chance observation. I swarmed him, possessed him, and the touch of his skin sang of salt and sweat. His soul rose to meet my attack in an agony of desperation as I burned through his defenses, but he fell to me as they all do. My invasion pierced through his thoughts and memories, shredded his control, and bound his mind and spirit into my will. He was a cornucopia of terror and defiance, and I feasted on those emotions.

Oh, how I feasted.

He fought until the end, until I boxed him safe and sound, making each moment I destroyed who he was a savoured delicacy. I hadn’t taken a host with such enjoyment in decades, and his agony, fear, and misery kept me gratifyingly fed this past year. I relished living his life, corrupting all he cherished. Listening to him scream from the prison I made for him inside his own body. Feeling his despair as death crept closer with each passing day.

He was special. I’ll miss this face.

I smiled at the memories, dark excitement rising through his borrowed blood. He served me well, my stimulating skin; a flawless mask to hide behind. An ideal life to steal. Yet, I can feel him dissolving, his flesh decaying. He is dying.

Yes, time to move on. Maybe a woman this year…

 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Footprints

Trust in me and I will guide you. I will heal you.”

I feel the words spoken but no one is in the room. Sighing, I put my backpack on the table and walk into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I groan, marveling at the lack of food. I grab one of the cheap beers, the only kind I can afford, and twist off the top, taking a swig.

“Give yourself to me and I will make it better. I will take the hurt from you.”

The words are a breath in my ear. I stopped looking for the being behind the voice long ago.

My movements are automatic. Grab the small pot from the stove, shake out two packets of ramen noodles, down the first beer as they cook, then crack open the second one while eating the sodium-laced soup straight from the pot.

I finish my dinner in the same place I started it then rinse the pot and fork, setting them back on the stove, ready for tomorrow night. The second beer comes with me to the bedroom. It’s a matter of ten steps between the two rooms.

“I am here. I will take the pain you feel.”

There is nothing to pull my attention away from the voice because I have nothing left. The things I used to own? All sold to try and get by. The cheap build-it-yourself dresser wobbles as I set the beer atop it next to the stack of unpaid bills.

Undressing, I toss my clothes on the pile in the corner. I need to do laundry but there isn’t enough money.  I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on, stepping in after steam curls out from behind the curtain. At least I still have hot water to shower with.

The water stings my skin as it cascades over me. Reaching back, I crank the heat up further. My skin reddens and it stands out more where is it stretched taut from the burns. As I close my eyes, the vision comes back, like it always does. The mortar shells raining down around us, trying to avoid something unavoidable until it happens, a sound like the earth itself opening, then nothing but ringing as chaos ensues.

They said it wasn’t my fault but they didn’t live it. They can’t understand it. They didn’t watch their friends burn, trapped inside an overturned Humvee.

“So many have come before you. I await. Accept my invitation and I will make it better.”

The voice has been there since shortly after I got out of the hospital and back home. It happened the day I returned to my church. There was a hero’s welcome, but I didn’t deserve it. I let my friends down. They got a different hero’s welcome when they got home, and I couldn’t be there for any of them. I’ve done my best to make peace though. Maybe one day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven.

That night the voice spoke to me, I freaked out and couldn’t sleep for three days afterward. It didn’t happen much in the beginning—once or twice a week—but it’s become more frequent. It happens at least ten times a day now, it feels like. But I don’t count.

Opening my eyes, I shut the water off and dry myself, then close the bathroom door. I leave the light on; I need a little bit to help me fall asleep—that, plus a few pills. I grab my beer and shuffle to bed, picking up the orange bottle from the floor. I open it and tip three into my hand, gulping them with a shot of beer. My fingers fumble the lid closed and I finish the last dregs of my drink.

I lie down and reach to the floor, picking up the paper I know is there, a poem given to me by our church’s pastor: ‘Footprints.’ He told me that it was written for millions of people before they knew they needed it and that, one day, I would truly accept and understand the words. Only then would my life would be better.

I read the poem as I’ve done every night since I got it, the paper worn and ragged in my hands. I finish and gently set it on the floor, then flip the switch on my lamp. Only a sliver of light streams from the bathroom.

Before I shut my eyes, the voice is there one last time. “Accept me and you will be free. I am your savior.”

I drift as the pills take hold. “Maybe you are,” I mumble. “Maybe you are.”

I dream of those moments, but for the first time it really is a dream, not a nightmare. Their eyes tell me everything. It’s time.

My heart is hammering in my chest when I wake. I know what I must do. I roll out of bed onto my knees. The voice is there immediately. “I am your savior. Accept me and I will guide you from this pain.”

“Yes, yes. Please, yes. You are my savior, I accept.” Answering out loud to the voice only I can hear.

My body shivers as I feel movement behind me. I start to turn but it’s too late. Slender hands grip my head.

“Welcome home,” the all-too-familiar voice whispers. A skeletal finger touches each temple and a searing heat rips through me.

***

I burn inside the Humvee, my skin sloughing off until there is nothing left… and then the moments repeat. For the rest of eternity, my men will watch me.

It is hell, but it is my hell.

And I am saved.

∼Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Walk with Grace

The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.

She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.

Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…

My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.

“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.

Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.

My lips curl into a frown of disdain.

Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.

“I’d be me.”

You’re already you. But you’re also me.

That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.

You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?

“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.

I’m glad we have an understanding.

“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”

Just keep walking.

She says it as if I have a choice.

“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”

What do you think?

“I don’t know why I bother asking.”

I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.

“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”

Their blood tastes better.

“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”

No. I’m starving.

I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…

“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.

If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”

“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”

“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”

“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”

“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”

His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”

As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.

I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.

My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.

Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…

∼Lee A. Forman

© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Like A Puppet

Earl was two hours into his shift and already pissed off.

It was bad enough that management stuck him out at the East Gate Security Checkpoint but they also put him with the new guy, Geoff. Not only that but his guts rumbled too, threatening to spill out his hind quarters at any moment.

No one really used the East Gate anymore as it had been turned into an exit-only checkpoint. The road was poorly maintained with crumbling asphalt and the gate itself was rusted chain link. Their guard shack was roughly the size of a large recreational vehicle and sat just off the road surrounded by weeds.

Inside was a large desk with two computer monitors, each of them linked to a CCTV camera. Fluorescent lights hummed above, giving the trailer a slight hint of green making Earl think of a hospital. There was a single phone hooked to the wall and even it had seen better days. In Earl’s view, the only good thing about the shack was the air conditioning.

“I’m going to have a smoke,” Earl grunted.

He stepped outside and a lit a cigarette.

It was a humid evening, evident from the sweat already running down his back. The sky was streaked with crimson as the sun slowly dropped toward the horizon. He glanced up at the lone street light standing next to the shack and watched as the moths were drawn to its glow.

A mosquito buzzed by Earl’s ear and he swatted aimlessly at it. Nearing fifty with a gut starting to hang over his belt, Earl had been with Dragon Security for almost fifteen of those years.

Despite that experience, they decide to screw me and stuck me the East Gate.

“No,” Earl said, sighing heavily. “You got yourself stuck here.”

The door opened behind him.

“Did you say something, Earl?” Geoff asked.

Earl shook his head and waved the new guy away.

He didn’t dislike Geoff as a person, but rather disliked him for reminding Earl of what he once was: young, in shape and working the job solely to pay his way through school.

Not earning a living off a security guard’s shitty wages.

The air conditioning felt great, although it also gave him the chills thanks to his sweat. He sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs and looked at the grainy black and white images on the monitors.

“What do you think they do up there?” Geoff asked, sitting down next to him.

“Up where?” Earl asked.

“At the Institute.”

Earl glared at him and said, “It doesn’t fucking matter what they do up there. The less you ask, the better.”

Geoff blinked, not expecting Earl to snap.

Earl sighed. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick. I made the mistake of asking a similar question and now I’m getting punished.”

Geoff opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it and turned back to the monitors.

About a week ago when Earl was still in Dragon Security’s good graces, he was working at the Main Entrance. He had gotten to know some of the people who actually worked inside the McFarlane Institute, one of whom was Dr. Richards. They shot the shit daily until Earl made the mistake of asking what they were doing up there.

A harmless question.

Dr. Richards didn’t speak to him after that and shortly thereafter he got assigned to the East Gate. It still pissed him off thinking back to it.

The ground shuddered, followed immediately by a deep, heart pounding thud.

The lights flickered twice before going out, along with the monitors and air conditioner.

They had lost power.

“What the hell was that?” Geoff asked as he jumped to his feet, knocking the chair over in the process.

“Relax,” Earl replied. “Just give it a sec. Sometimes there are power bumps.”

While it was true, Earl had never experienced a power bump like that before. He looked out the window toward the institute and saw that the lights were still on.

Why hadn’t they gone out?

The power returned and everything went back to normal.

“You see,” Earl said, rubbing at his stomach. “There’s nothing to it. If you’re here long enough you’ll get used to them.”

“I won’t lie,” Geoff said picking his chair off of the floor. “It gave me a start.”

Earl’s guts rumbled again and he knew better than to tempt fate.

“I’m going to take a shit,” Earl said making his way toward the bathroom. “Are you okay out here?”

“I should be,” Geoff nodded.

“You remember what to do if a car comes?”

“Check their documents of entitlement and identification. If everything looks good let them out.”

As he reached the bathroom, Earl turned around and said, “If you have any issues let me know.”

Earl shut the door, dropped his pants and closed his eyes as he sat down on the toilet, enjoying the relief it brought. For some reason, the trailer’s designer felt it necessary to put in a small window in the bathroom. It was the size of the Kleenex box and up high so they left it alone, usually leaving it open to air out the shitter.

As much as he wanted to believe that it had just been a power bump, Earl couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else. Every other power bump had knocked out the exterior lights to the McFarlane Institute.

This time it hadn’t.

“Hey Earl,” Geoff called through the door. “There’s a car coming.”

“So handle it!” Earl yelled back.

He heard Geoff open the shack door and step outside. As Earl went ahead with his business, he listened as Geoff’s voice carried in through the open window.

“Good evening,” Geoff said.

There was a pause and then a voice said, “Good… evening… it… is…” Earl recognized the voice as Dr. Richards’. Why did he sound weird?

“I need to see your ID and document of entitlement.” There was the sound of movement, then shuffling of paper. “It’ll just be a quick second while I validate these.”

“Going… home… for… night…”

“What was that?” Geoff asked.

“Going… home… for… night…”

“Quitting time is always a good feeling.”

The phone began ringing out by the desk.

“Fuck sakes,” Earl muttered.

After a quick wipe he walked toward the desk, stealing a glance outside at Dr. Richards’ car. Geoff was handing his paperwork back through the passenger side window. Earl saw the good doctor and stopped, as there was something off about him.

His motions were jerky and delayed as if he were reacting. It reminded Earl of the old ventriloquist puppets when their heads would turn followed by their eyes. That combined with his bizarre speech pattern rubbed Earl the wrong way but he couldn’t figure out why.

The phone continued to ring.

Earl heard the familiar buzzing indicating that the gate was opening and saw Geoff with his hand on the control switch. The gate was almost completely open when Earl picked up the receiver.

“East Gate, Earl speaking.”

The gate creaked to a stop.

This is McNeil!

Geoff waved Dr. Richards’s car through.

“How’s it—?”

Don’t let anyone through the gate! We’ve had a breach! I repeat, we’ve had a breach!

Earl dropped the receiver and bolted outside just as Geoff hit the switch to close the gate. Dr. Richards’ car was already outside the gate, a few meters beyond the fence where it had stopped.

“That guy sure seemed fucked up,” Geoff said, then looked at Earl. “Hey, who was that on the phone?”

Dr. Richards began convulsing uncontrollably.

“It was McNeil from the institute,” Earl began. “He said there’d been a breach.” His voice trailed off.

Dr. Richards rose from his seat and hung out the passenger side window by what looked like a cross between a snake and tentacle.

“Uh… Earl,” Geoff whispered. “What the hell is that?”

Earl said nothing as a larger shape materialized from the backseat and slithered through the window.

The creature had what looked like five appendages, including the one holding the good doctor. Its moist body glistened in the light of the street lamp now that the sun dropped completely below the horizon. It emitted a sound similar to that of someone smacking their tongue against their lips.

Dropping Dr. Richards’ body onto the ground, it disappeared into the encroaching darkness.

“My God…” Geoff muttered. “Earl… did it… did it use his body like… like…”

“Like a puppet,” Earl managed to say.

 

© Copyright 2017 John Olson. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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