Damned Words 25
Lee A. Forman
The past withered, faded, much like the photograph Benny held. Time consumed memory, leaving only a reflection of their faces behind his eyes. He couldn’t see beyond the scowl his wife expressed. Often, he mused it was the sun in her eyes—mere speculation, as the gray expanse that once thrived with the living, now decayed with the dead. The end wiped clean all sins, but all good deeds as well; as if a switch had been flipped, those who survived born anew.
He had to relearn who he was, as did everyone else. But he never accepted the new world. The picture tethered him to what was before. It held part of him in a forgotten place of warmth and hope. But the source of those feelings remained unknown. His head ached, torn between realities, one of which he couldn’t be sure existed. For all he knew, it was a dream within a nightmare, some faculty of human survival he’d never been aware of—something to keep the soul going. He could easily have found that picture in the endless, trash-filled wasteland, and simply forgotten he never knew any of those people.
Miami Herald, July 22, 1948: BIZARRE KILLINGS IN THE EVERGLADES
Five members of a family vacationing near Palmdale, Florida were found dead yesterday at their summer cottage. “The killings were the strangest I’ve ever seen,” reported Sheriff Nash of Glades County. “We found the parents, Thomas and Linda Copper, in their bed, buried under fifty deadly snakes. We had a helluva time getting to the bodies. Eldest son, Joshua’s corpse was in the den, lying face down in two inches of swamp water. Bites riddled his body and he was missing an arm. His brother, Will, had been dragged into the glades behind the house and partially eaten by gators. We found teenage daughter, Janine, in her wheelchair, parked at the edge of the dock. Frogs covered her body and nested in her open mouth.” Shaking his head, Sheriff Nash added, “We’re still trying to figure out why so many swamp creatures had preyed upon the Copper Family.”
The only survivor was youngest daughter, Katie Copper. Sheriff Nash found the nine-year-old girl sitting on the back porch humming to herself and petting a large python in her lap. When later asked what happened to her family, Katie looked toward the saw-grass marsh and said, “My family lives in the glades.”
I Just Don’t Know…
They look so happy in the photo. Each member with different experiences, yet together they’re something more. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each member is a piece connecting to the others to create something greater than the piece itself. Is this what a family is supposed to look like? They’re with me now but no longer alive. I have them arranged in the same poses as the photo yet it is not the same. I tried to keep the cuts in their neck as small as I could. Can you call a group of corpses a family? I just don’t know…
John Potts Jr
He looked to the girl outside on the swing, and then to the one in the frame. There is just no way, he thought. A chill fell upon him when he glanced once more to the two girls, like the child who witnessed the boogeyman willingly. They both wore white and had hair the color of obsidian and even twenty feet away, he noticed an eerie resemblance.
But this is at least a century old, he thought, and returned the frame back to its spot atop the dusty television stand.
The cable technician bent, grabbed his tool belt and turned, now standing eye level with a portrait hanging on a wall adjacent to the room’s exit. This one had color, mid-seventies. A nuclear family with strawberry blonde hair sprawled across a massive redwood. The little girl was there too, off to the side and never too far away.
And again, this time at a Princess Resort. She stalked the two parents with their single child, her predator-eyes fixated on prey, not family.
I thrust the picture that I’ve been carrying for the last twenty years in front of me. “This. This is what humanity is supposed to be.” My voice catches as the two young men standing just inside the door of my cabin click the safeties off their rifles pointing them at me. “The world wasn’t always this way. You must believe me. The blinding light etched into this picture marked their arrival. I am the little girl in this. They tried to wipe us out. All but the ones too young to remember. You. They raised and trained you.” Tears stream down my face, my hand shaking. They fight for the enslavers. They are homo-sapiens but I do not call them human. I don’t know how many of us are still alive. I step toward them holding my picture like a priest holding a cross but this isn’t a demon I can banish. “Please. This picture. This. This is Earth. This is humanity.”
The flash from the gun reminds me of twenty years ago.
I remember them.
Holding the faded photo, looking at the smiling faces posing for the camera, I recalled the day. Such a close-knit family. Father and eldest son running the family business, mother and daughter running the home, the second son soon off to college.
And the little girl. Twelve, I think, in the photo. Or thirteen.
I’m not quite sure anymore.
They seem so happy, the photo makes them look happy. So ordinary.
They weren’t though. There were strange secrets. Buried secrets
Like the bodies buried under their rose garden.
The bodies of my family. Those people in the photo.
It was a late summer evening, when the Hunters came. Die witches, they yelled as they shot their guns. They screamed, foul witches, as they cut the heads off their lifeless bodies, laughed as they dragged me away shrieking. I saw, though, saw from the car where they held me, where they made me keep quiet. Saw the holes they dug and the bodies covered with dirt.
Then they took me away, tried to re-educate me.
Make me a Hunter.
They didn’t succeed.
I’m still a witch.
And I avenged my family.
Christoper A. Liccardi
Etched in eternity, the family posed in the backyard pretending nothing was wrong. With such a handsome family, what could be wrong?
Their faces belied a truth that smelled like rotting meat on a sun-beaten highway; all but one face.
The little girl sat ‘injun’ style they called it in school. All thoughts of political correctness sixty-years away.
“Wasn’t there another child, sir?” The photographer asked.
The little girl replied, choking back a smirk, “He didn’t make it.”
“Oh.” The photographer shuffled awkwardly for a moment. Death was uncommon for this city dweller.
The sitting took an hour and everyone was as still as statues the entire time, except the girl. She squirmed and fidgeted like she’d sat on an ant hill.
Afterward, she got up and walked over to the man with the fancy camera and tugged on his pant leg.
The little girl smiled up at him, sinister and dark; he was instantly terrified.
“Wanna stay for dinner?” The little girl asked, forcing a sweetness that was a pure lie on her lips.
Before the man could reply, father had driven a stake through his left eye. The little girl cheered and began to giggle.
Joseph A. Pinto
I’d heard of her talent. But I’d been a skeptic, a trait stuck like glue on me throughout life. Someone told me a long time ago, though, that even the most jaded of trees need time bearing the fruit.
She felt my presence, acknowledged it with a choked clearing of her throat. She pulled out an old camera. The bright pop of the flash bar momentarily stunned my sight.
One liver spotted hand tap-tapped the doily littered table before her. The other? It offered an instant film sheet to the ghosts in the air.
And the ghosts, they did appear.
In muted sepia outlines at first, solidifying slowly before my eyes. My mouth parted, astounded. “You killed all of them.” She did not pose it as a question.
The seer chuckled, dry as rainless dirt. “You got a helluva lot more souls in that black heart of yours.”
I admired the family trapped within the film sheet. “Yes.” I knew my own soul had been weighed heavy of late. I knew I simply needed some releasing, some clearing of space. “Take my picture again,” I instructed the seer and watched as the fruits ripened before me.
Taken in as a foster child; I knew nothing of my lineage. The family found me, told me I was one of them. When I was introduced to the way, I bucked; I didn’t want to believe. They showed me older images; the five of them in each, my mother the sixth—our resemblance undeniable. I could live as long as I had the strength to perform the act, thereby resetting the clock to the age of my inception.
They were jovial at first; each abided the stricture of the cycle. Soon enough, cracks in the veneer began to show. The men grew impatient, my aunties more so. They engaged in the suckling with a frequency that reset days not decades. An ugliness grew; a desire to perform the ritual without the gain of youth. It began in dark alleyways where illicit abortions took place. Once the clinics opened, there was no stopping them. Regeneration required one thing: consumption of a fetal sack with its embryo still intact within the host body. At the age of seventy-nine, the choice was once again mine; to feed and live despite the grotesque nature of the deed, or allow death its claim.
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