When will it end?
Struggling to catch my breath, I stop for a moment, hands on my knees. The door to my left is shut, I haven’t been in there yet. Could that be a way out?
It always changes.
“Daadddeee…” My daughter’s voice echoes through the halls, distant and menacing. “Where are you?” She giggles, and my skin crawls. The voice is my daughter’s but the words are not her own.
They belong to the Sinister.
Bursting through the door, it quickly becomes obvious that I’ve misjudged. It’s not the exit but another classroom. Like the others I’ve seen, the desks are overturned, strewn about. The floor’s covered with debris. Even in the dark, I can see the walls are splattered and smeared with gore.
I thought I knew my way around her school after months of dropping her off every morning. For fuck’s sake, the building is essentially one giant corridor with rooms branching off it; how hard could this be?
“Daadddeee… I’m going to find you!”
She’s closer…its closer.
I thought I’d put enough distance between us to buy time. Creeping back to the door I peer out. The corridor is lit only by the flicker of flames burning sporadically within the building. Screams erupt from somewhere mixing with childish laughter.
I dash out into the corridor, avoiding a lick of the flame, continuing my search for the way out.
My daughter said… the Sinister said… there’s a way out, and if I find it, it’ll let us leave.
I slow my pace as the corridor begins to quake.
Oh god, it’s happening again.
Walls crack and splinter while steel beams groan as they rip from their foundation. The ceiling and floor shifts position, altering the layout like a Rubik’s Cube. The horror is indescribable; the confusion maddening.
The Sinister said we can leave; but I doubt it will let us.
I jog toward one of the freshly formed corners and my feet slide out from under me; I slip on the entrails of what looks like one of the school’s administrators. Hitting the floor beside the lifeless torso, I see eyes frozen open in terror, they stare blankly at the ceiling. The lower half is nowhere to be seen.
“Daadddeee… you can’t hide forever!”
Holy fuck she’s…it’s close.
Scrambling back to my feet I continue down the unfamiliar hallway. I don’t know how long it’s been since the nightmare began; the Sinister gave me a head start what seems like ages ago. Here and there I’ve seen other parents as desperate as I am to find their children and make it out.
I’ve also seen some that didn’t make it. What of their kids?
Then all other thoughts are eradicated: I see it.
Barely visible, in the orange dancing glow of the flames, is an Exit sign above a heavy door.
Oh my god, a way out. My heart races.
With a new sense of urgency, I use every ounce of strength to propel myself toward the door.
Almost there…the ceiling shatters above me.
In a deafening crack, ceiling tiles, duct work and dust rain down on me, along with my daughter. I collapse under her and the debris, hitting the floor just a few feet from the exit.
“I found you, Daddy,” she says.
Gripping me with inhuman strength, she flips me onto my back and my heart breaks.
Her arms are gone, ripped out of their sockets and replaced by greyish-pink appendages with six oversize claws protruding from stumpy, inhuman hands. She still has her own legs but has sprouted elongated talons that tear through her tiny Mary Jane’s. Her face is still that of my little girl, but her mouth is permanently etched into an unrelenting grin.
Worst of all; her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes have been torn out leaving empty sockets.
“Baby girl,” my voice cracks with emotion. “The exit is right here.”
“You almost made it, Daddy,” she says and her voice softens. “…almost…”
“It’s right here, honey. Let’s leave… me and you…” Even I don’t believe my words.
The Sinister creeps back into her voice. “But then the fun would end. You don’t want the fun to end, do you, Daddy?”
“What the hell happened here?”
She giggles, digging her talons deep into my chest. I feel them scrape between my ribs.
“Oh, my dear Daddy,” she squats, pressing her full weight into my chest. “You just answered your own question: Hell happened here.” She twists her talons deeper, nearly piercing one of my lungs. “Besides, how can you leave something that’s already everywhere?”
Tossing her head back, she erupts into a shrieking laugh.
∼ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
Beneath the stars I entered the forest, machete unsheathed. The idea of a gun rejected early in my search. It wasn’t personal enough. I wanted to sever its ability to escape and run my hand over its face—it had no eyes; I wanted to make sure it could see me. I needed it to know it was me who consigned it to death.
I pondered the irony of where the hunt would end. Years I searched to unmask the hidden wretch, my obsession. In that time I encountered many a sinful beast, but none so horrible as the eyeless thing that took my wife. Meryl’s expression held elegance even in shock, as its shiny, coal-dark arm wrapped around her throat and took her forever.
I sought out urban legends, overheard rumors in bar conversations, asked questions no sane person would dare. But none of the things I hunted turned out to be her abductor. I kept notes, made sketches, documented the unknown horrors that live in the wild. Parents tell you monsters aren’t real, but the wisdom of a child knows no suppression.
Would peace come of its destruction? Has it come to the victims of other felled nightmares? Maybe. Either way, I needed my closure.
As I stealthily navigated the woods I felt dreams and nightmares within my grasp, burning cinders of pain and hate. I’d scar my flesh just to be close; die to touch it. My hands trembled, heart pumped excited blood. A grin spread my chapped lips—I was closer than ever before. Every few steps I stopped to listen for movement. It was no ignorant beast I pursued; it was another hunter, just as cunning as myself, if not more.
A rustle to the side caught my breath. It seemed a deliberate tactic; a ruse to draw me in. So I kept still. It was trying to locate me. I waited, and my patience won out. I heard it stalking through the brush and followed silent as the night.
Flashes of Meryl’s terrified eyes drove nails into my heart, but I pulled them out and left them behind. I had to focus on my prey, else I’d become it.
Excitement turned to fear when I felt hot breath against the back of my neck. Somehow it tricked me. Somehow it won. In a last-ditch effort I turned and swung my blade with blind aim, but its slender fingers caught my wrist.
Its black, featureless face moved close to mine. The ebon flesh receded from its skull. From within came rows of pointed teeth. Its entire head snapped like the muzzle of an enraged mongrel. The serrated maw engulfed my skull but the teeth didn’t penetrate, only held firm against my throat. From deep within its gut, a meaty appendage extended and lodged itself in my esophagus. I bit with force, hoping to do whatever damage I could before it killed me. But the flesh was too fibrous; my human teeth did nothing. It shoved itself further into my abdomen, I choked against the thick, sausage-like tube. All I wanted was to scream in pain, to release…anything. But I could only writhe in agony while my chest hitched in a struggle for life.
∼ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
“Under the moonlight, that’s what my momma said.”
Ivy spoke to the night, her fingers digging into damp soil. “It’s when the flowers bloom, Ivy, and the strangest, best things happen when those flowers bloom.” She giggled as a worm crawled out of the upturned earth; she scooped it into her hand. “Why hello, Mr. Worm, come to hear me jabber on about my mother’s wisdom? Because she surely was wise. Least about this garden. That’s why I’m here. Got me a flower that needs blooming.”
Ivy pulled a large brown seed from her pocket and dropped it in the hole she dug, smoothing the dirt back over and burying it. Then she crushed the worm and smushed the blood and gore into the ground covering the seed.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Worm, but every little bit helps.”
She reached back and picked up her small pail, the contents sloshing a bit. She smiled as she poured the liquid over her newly planted seed, watering it with more blood.
“Now we just need a little moonlight, we surely do.” As if on command, the clouds shifted and a sliver of light trickled its way down, dancing its glow over the newly planted seed. Ivy whispered one word: “Grow.”
The ground trembled, and a tiny crack formed. Seconds later, a small red shoot poked its way from the darkness. The plant swelled and expanded, weeks of growth happened in the span of a minute, until a black budded flower emerged. Its silky petals unfolded, and its stamen began to ooze a musty smelling dark fluid. Ivy held her jar under the blossom and let the thick black nectar drip into her vessel. She was patient, letting the jar fill halfway until the flower drained dry. She pulled the glass container away and watched as the bloom shrivelled and crumbled to dust. A gentle breeze blew the remains away.
Ivy smiled. “Oh yes, this will do.”
She collected her pail—setting the jar inside—and rose to her feet, dusting the debris from her skirt. She walked back to her porch and put her pail on the top step. She took out the jar, staring at the glass as she gently sloshed the thick juice inside. Then Ivy smiled at the decaying corpse of her husband, recently dug from the graveyard.
“Sorry it took so long, honey, but Momma hid the seed well. But don’t you worry. A few drops of this here goo and you’ll be a verified walking zombie in no time.” She leaned over and let the nectar drip from the jar onto her spouse’s lips. “My momma told me not to marry you. Only piece of her wisdom I ever ignored, I should of known she’d be right, but now I got the chance to pay you back for what you did to me.” Ivy giggled as her formerly dead husband fluttered his eyes. “You’re mine now, body and soul. Oh, the things I’m going to do to you, honey. You’ll wish I let you stay dead. You surely will.”
∼ A.F. Stewart
© Copyright A.F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
I open my eyes.
The floor is icy; that’s the first thing I notice. The flagstones are freezing, a leaching cold, and I can feel the warmth of my body seeping into the granite underneath me, though the temperature of the surface itself doesn’t seem to change.
The quiet encroaches on my mind. My breath rasps in my ears, seconded only by the thud of my heartbeat. I’d performed the summoning ritual perfectly. Whatever I’d called out of the void should still be bound here, waiting my command, breathing, gibbering, something audible. Silence is never a good sign.
I try to push myself up. Can I? The stone under my back is a gravity well pulling at my skin, but I strain, getting my shoulders off the floor. The air smells of ash and smoke from burning flesh, my stomach twists. Pressure rises in my throat. I drop back, turn my head to the side, and open my jaw to let out the flow. I spit when I’m empty and sit up fully at last, weak but moving. A final trickle slides from my lips down my shirtfront.
I spare the liquid staining my shirt a glance. It’s black. I keep my eyes on the blotch for a second before I finally look down at my forearms, at the markings there. The glyphs should have faded before I was awake; they’ve always faded before when I’ve tinkered in the void, but now they cover my skin in neat perfect rows, as if they’ve been painted on. I rub my left thumb over my right forearm, but the marks don’t smear. I’m not imagining them, and the realization makes my gut wrench again. This is new. A message? A warning? I can’t read them this time. The knot tightens, rises toward my throat.
I stand unsteadily, wishing I had someone to prop me up. Nothing happens, yet the thought alone should have been enough to bring the creature I’d called forth to my side. I take a few tottery steps out of the quartered and rune inscribed glyph I’d long ago etched into the basement floor. I turn back to see the smeared summoning circle, the scattered ash and salt, for the first time.
It isn’t just broken; it’s empty. I don’t know what I’ve pulled from the void—I never know until I see it—but it’s gone. It’s loose.
I limp up the basement steps, lay my hand on the knob. It rattles in my grasp, the door bowing outward. On the other side, something growls.
∼ Scarlett R. Algee
© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.
“Hell. You think you have it all figured out. Fire and brimstone, sinners writhing in agony, cries of the forsaken. You think that’s it, but you’re wrong. You cursed me there when you drove the knife into me because I was different. You cursed me there when you watched me bleed out. You cursed me there in the name of God. I didn’t belong there. Not until your knife pierced my skin. And then I knew hatred. You taught me. As my life slipped away on the grass, as you spit on me, you taught me hate. In that moment, you sent me to Hell.”
My smile melts into a sneer. They lie in their bed, both paralyzed by my touch. His wife screams, but no sound comes out. His eyes are wide, mouth closed. Ten years have taken a toll on him, though my body is the same.
I yank him by his worn collar. “Does she even know?” I toss him into the chair beside the bed. His limp body slouches. “She doesn’t, does she? You never told her.” Roughly I arrange him into a proper sitting position and scoot the chair closer, twisting it so he faces his wife.
I sit on the edge of his bed, our knees almost touching. “Hell is filled with two types of people. Some are like you—they’re the ones writhing in eternal fire.” I lean forward, my lips at his ear. “Physical and mental anguish worse than you can fathom.”
His response is to void his bladder. An acrid smell fills the room.
“Are you scared? Truly scared, maybe for the first time in your life? Now you know how I felt.” I recline back so I can watch the effect my words have on him. His eyes dart around the room, then back to his wife, then to me. “Then there are people like me. You sparked hate in me, more powerful than anything I’d ever felt. When I took my last breath, I didn’t wake up in a fiery pit. No, I landed in a little gray room. That’s where my training began. Where I nearly died again. You made me hate so deeply that I was chosen to thrive in Hell. To live eternally with my hatred, become one with it, use it how I see fit.”
His eyes flicker with false understanding. I laugh. I tip his wife’s chin up. “He thinks he gets it. He doesn’t, but you are beginning to, aren’t you?” I snap my fingers and her terrified shriek fills the room. I let her body spasm on the bed, assaulted by raw emotions, the first real ones she’s ever felt. I snap my fingers again. She stills. Silent screams return.
I turn back to him. “You don’t know real hate, real anger. You are a fool, duped by those you follow. Your life is a lie and now you will bear the fruit of that lie.” I rip open his shirt.
Closing my eyes, I’m back in the little gray room. My teacher tried to break me. Bombarded my body and mind. Intense pain as my skin melted from an atomic blast, slow agony as ebola bled me out, despair as a child breathed her last in my arms. I know them all, and thousands more.
My finger touches his chest, freeing his body enough to tremble. He vibrates through me. I trace the edge of my fingernail down the center of his ribcage. The stench of burnt flesh hits me. I open my eyes and am met with his silent wail. Beautiful agony. A razor-thin line of scorched flesh flares then disappears.
I walk behind him. “This is where he stabbed me first,” I say to his wife as I push my nail next to his left shoulder blade. His body jerks in the chair and I release his scream, a guttural cry of animalistic pain. Flesh drips off him. I growl, “From behind. He’s a coward and he’s going to pay.”
I shove him to the floor and tear his shirt the rest of the way off. With precision I inflict every wound he gave me ten years ago, every cut etched into my being. White heat erodes his skin.
His wife’s eyes, once wide, narrow as he sobs and drools on the bed. I haul him up and reposition him in the chair. “Five in the back,” I say to her. “Seven more in the chest.”
Each cut elicits raspy gasps. His knife drove deep but I barely pierce his flesh. Ten years worth of hate doesn’t need much of an opening to do damage.
I silence him again and sit back on the bed. “And then he did two more things,” I say quietly, my head low. “He spit on me as blood poured from my body. All of that wasn’t enough, though. He bent down and ran the blade across my neck.”
My hands on my knees, I push myself up and glide to the far side of the bed, close to her. “I won’t spit on him, though. I’m not a base creature. Unlike your husband, the murdering coward.”
I look at her and see myself. I place my palm over her heart and press. The physical act mirrors what is already done. I let her husband hear her final breath before I no longer need to keep her bound.
We both know what comes next.
She gulps for air, bucking and slamming against the wall of the little gray room. Her head swivels as she takes in her surroundings. A furious yell fills the small space.
I smile. It’s time to begin her training.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.