Ask About the Sinners

“Do you believe in angels, Dr. Wells?” The rest of the therapy group rolled their eyes.

“There she goes again, on about those damn angels,” Randy growled. He crossed his arms and kicked at the floor, his metallic chair rattling against the tiled floor. “The girl’s got a fixation and I’m sick of it.”

“No, judgements, Randy. You know the rules.” Dr. Wells frowned at him and then turned to Cindy with a condescending smile. “Tell me about your angels.”

Stretching her toes, Cindy softly hummed in time to the thwap of the ceiling fan. The scent of jasmine floated in the air, stirred from some forgotten corner. In the silence, she gazed at the white walls and watched the shadows dance, while tracing a pattern on the padded arm of her chair.

Finally, she spoke. “You must believe in them to see them. I mean really believe, not just Sunday-go-to-church conviction, forgotten on Monday. If you have true faith, they can help you.”

“Fat lot of good they did you,” Randy laughed. “You’re stuck in this loony bin with the rest of us.”

“Randy,” Dr. Wells stared with another disapproving look. “What did I tell you about that?”

“Not to call this place a ‘loony bin’.” Randy slouched in his chair and scowled.

“They did help.” Cindy’s voice interrupted and everyone turned to gawk. “The angels saved me.” She smiled, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Not until the next session.

The last to arrive, Cindy sat down, easing into her chair. She looked at each person and spoke as if no time had passed. “Not all angels have white wings, you know.” She hummed and gazed upward. “Some have black wings. They’re the ones who punish sins.”

“On about your angels, again?” Randy grunted. “They’re not doing a very good job. Plenty of sinners in the world.”

Cindy glared at him, raising an eyebrow and tilting her chin. “You have to ask them first. They can’t punish anyone, if you don’t ask.”

Dr. Wells cleared his throat. “That’s what you told the police, isn’t it? That you requested angels protect you from your parents? And the angels killed them, not you?”

Cindy turned her attention to the doctor. “Yes. I don’t think they believed me, because I ended up here. But it’s the truth.”

Dr. Wells smiled. “Truth can sometimes be complicated. You’re here so we can sort what really happened that night.”

“I told you. Not believing me doesn’t make it a lie.” Cindy laughed. “I’m not crazy. They’re real, and so beautiful. Ebony feathers, ethereal faces and shining eyes, with a radiant silver aura. And the loveliest things about them are their long blood-stained claws.”

“Claws don’t sound lovely.” Randy grunted into the conversation. “Your angels are just made-up monsters.”

“They are not monsters!” Cindy stared down Randy, and he squirmed.

“Stop looking at me like that. I ain’t done nothing to you. Keep away from me with your angel delusions.”

“You have nothing to fear from my angels. You don’t have many sins, even if you pretend otherwise. Dr. Wells has sins, though,” Cindy tilted her head towards the therapist. “Dark ones.”

“I’m a sinner, am I?” Dr. Wells chuckled.

Cindy nodded. “I know what you’ve done and so do the angels.” She leaned forward. “Time for you to pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Dr. Wells straightened in his chair. As he did, he felt something brush against his shoulder and smelled a hint of jasmine. A black feather fell in his lap. An invisible hand reached into his chest, and Dr. Wells felt the last beat of his heart before a force ripped the organ out of his body in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh. His corpse crumpled to the floor. Everyone but Cindy screamed.

And somewhere in the ether, a blacked winged angel feasted on the heart of a sinner.

∼ A.F. Stewart

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

Under the Moon

They gather beneath the moonlight, where the silver shaded radiance meets the glowing edge of street lights and gaudy neon. They linger where the shadows settle in the cracks and alley bricks, where stagnant puddles shimmer from the lightly falling rain, and scattered refuse flutters in the wind.

Their claws scritch against the asphalt, a tiny sound against the submerged surface of the city, lost in darkness and the quiet hum of nightlife. They move and shift in scurry motions, shadow to shadow, slithering along the cracks and filth, unseen. Cars pass, doors slam, music drifts down the street. They take no heed, only finding the place they need to be.

Then they wait.

With each shallow breath, what passes for blood races through their veins, melding with the night. Their little tongues dart from their mouths, and shiny teeth knock together. The vibrations of the city hum against their bodies, disturbing the flow and rhythm.

And they wait. Until…

Footsteps echo on the sidewalk, tap, tap, down the pavement.

They hear the noise, and in eager anticipation their clicking claws keep rhythm, merging into a pulsing harmony, into a macabre sort of heartbeat. Thump, click, thump, click until the sounds are indistinguishable from one another.  

Until they are one tempo, one pattern, one in the flow of time…

Until the person who approaches is theirs, is lost to their need, to the swarm of their frenzy.

They are shadows at first, a darkening of light around his movement. Then they are sound; scritches and scratches and auditory fear. Lastly, they are pain; savage, sharp teeth, biting and gouging, devouring flesh. 

They exhale through his coursing blood, their life sliding into his, sucking, squelching, slurping pieces and bone, unmaking existence with screams and crimson splatters until every beat ceases. Until all that remains are red stains in a puddle.

Then they fade back to the cracks in the world, retreating to the lengthening darkness on scuttling claws.

And the hum of the city begins again, masking the faint clacking with the gloom of night. 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Red Witch

Dalia Habershon sat in her favourite high back chair and surveyed the room. The lights were dimmed, with a few candles to lend the right ambiance. The fireplace roared and the butler had set out tea for the guest. The peeling wallpaper was barely visible, and the cracks in the plaster melded into the gloom.

We haven’t had a visitor in ages. This could be a good day.

She shifted position to ease the twinge in her back. The chair creaked, and the faded upholstery rippled, threatening to tear again. Dalia smoothed the skirt of her best dress, ignoring the old stains and the tattered edges of the fabric. She had done her best to look presentable, fixing her hair, even adding a touch of lipstick.

She cocked her head, listening to the whispers from the shadows. “Shush, he’ll be here soon. Be patient,” she replied. More whispers, Dalia strained to make out the words. “Yes, I’m certain. He’s not the type to miss an opportunity. He’s nothing but a muckraker trying to jumpstart a career, make a name for himself. He jumped at the chance to interview the infamous Red Witch.”

The double doors flung open, and two figures strode into the room. Dalia’s butler announced, “A Mr. Phillip Cobb to see you, ma’am,” before bowing and backing out of the room. He shut the doors behind him with a bang that made Phillip Cobb jump.

He laughed nervously. “This place sure plays up the spooky atmosphere.”

“It’s the way we like it. Come, have a seat on the sofa.” Dalia waved her hand at the ragged piece of furniture, hoping the springs were still holding.

Phillip sat down as instructed and took out his phone. “Do you mind if I record this?”

“Whatever you need.” Dalia beamed, playing the perfect host. “Would you like some tea?”

Phillip shook his head. “Maybe later. I’d Like to start the interview. How did you get this local reputation as the ‘Red Witch’? Rumours have it you make people disappear with your magic.” He smiled, a slight edge of mocking to his grin.

“Did they tell you how I cast spells and feed my hapless victims to my demonic pets? Or perhaps the one about how I collect souls.” Dalia snickered. “Truth is, I’m just an eccentric lady and people like to talk.” She shrugged. “It’s not my fault if people disappear. Probably should have minded their own business.”

“So you’re saying that you’re just a victim of gossip and harassment, that—” Phillip suddenly yelped, pointing at the shadows, “What the hell is that?”

Dalia sighed. Damn the ghosts. They’re so impatient. “Just can’t stay hidden, can you? Well, come out then, since he’s seen you.”

From behind the chair, several ethereal figures floated forward, crowding around the sofa. Eager moans issued from their throats as Phillip shrank away from their outstretched hands. He yelped again as something else slithered across the floor, adding a trail of slime to the layers of dust.

Still shrieking, Phillip leapt to his feet. With her foot, Dalia shoved the coffee table into his shins, upsetting his balance and rattling the tea set. As Phillip tumbled back onto the sofa, Dalia reached between the chair cushions, then vaulted over the table, brandishing a knife.

“You wanted to know if I had anything to do with the disappearances? The answer is yes,” she snarled. “The Red Witch is a killer.” She slit his throat with a laugh.

His blood sprayed against her dress, adding a touch of bright red to the faded crimson cloth. Dalia licked drops of Phillip’s blood from her lips as she watched his moaning spirit rise from his body.

“Come my pets, you have someone new to torture.”

The other ghosts rushed in, moaning eagerly, and hauled Phillip’s spirit away to the darkest shadows. Dalia listened to his phantom screams as her pets played with their newest toy. She chuckled.

It will only hurt for a little while, Phillip. Then you’ll become one of us.

More shadows shifted, and a reddish tentacle reached out towards the sofa. It wrapped around the corpse’s neck and squeezed. Bones snapped and flesh dissolved until the head popped off. The slimy appendage dragged the head into the shadows and they both disappeared into the dim murk of the room. Blood oozed and pooled on the sofa cushions.

Dalia nodded. “That’s it, feast, my pet, but save some meat for me. Winter’s coming and the freezer needs stocking.”

She scooped some blood from the stump of the neck into a cup and poured in some tea. Dalia settled back in her chair, sipping her drink and licking blood from her fingers. She gazed at the body on the sofa and listened to the sweet sounds of screams and crunching bones.

Dalia smiled. “Well, it was a very good day indeed.”

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Crows

“The crows can see you. They are waiting.”

I didn’t look at my sister—still in disbelief she returned to the city—but I felt her shift beside me on the bench. I replied, “There are no crows in the city, Isabella. There haven’t been for years.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw her shake her head. “They’re still here.”

“No. You’re wrong. They left us.” I stood and walked away, leaving her alone on the bench. 

Her voice followed me, “They see you, Anna.”

I walked home through the empty streets. The city wasn’t crowded since the plagues. Many left, followed the crows, but a stubborn few remained. As I climbed the stairs to my apartment, I wondered why I stayed. Fear maybe, of what was beyond the city, or perhaps habit. Lately, none of my reasons mattered. I entered my apartment with Isabella’s words ringing in my ears.

“The crows can see you.” 

I hadn’t thought of them for a long time. Memories shifted in my mind, and I recalled the last days of the final plague. When the world understood. When we finally saw the crows: black-winged angels, guiding the souls of the dead away. In those end days, the sky was black with them and the air strident with the sound of their wings and caws. Yet, they vanished after the plagues. Abandoned those that remained.

“No. They never abandoned you.” 

I glanced towards the door. Isabella stood there.

Damn, she followed me home. Why? Why did she come back?

Isabella looked at me and said, “It’s time to go. Time to stop pretending. This isn’t life, Anna. You need to remember you’re dead.”

I snorted and looked at my sister with contempt. “Do you think I’m that stupid? I’m not one of the delusional ones. I know I died. I know you’re dead too.”

Isabella sighed. “Then why do you stay?”

I hesitated, then replied, “I don’t know. Fear, perhaps. The city is familiar, comforting, even if it is a city of ghosts. It was home.” I turned away, staring at a dusty picture of my deceased husband. “Maybe we’re only echoes, afraid to move on, but it’s something to cling to.” 

“Is it enough?” Isabella held out a hand.

I turned away. “Why have you come back? Why now? You crossed over years ago. You didn’t stay. Not like me.”

Isabella moved to my side, putting a hand on my shoulder. I glanced at her and she smiled.

“I’m a harbinger. The crows sent me, and others, to guide the last souls to their final rest.”

I shook my head. “The crows abandoned us.”

“No. They only waited. No soul can move on until they’re ready. Now they sent me to bring you home.”

“After all this time?” I trembled and jerked away. I walked to the window and stared at the city.

What’s beyond this? Is it good? Am I ready?

If I could have cried, I would have. I blurted, “What if I don’t want to go?”

“We both know you want this, Anna.” Isabella came over to stand at the window with me. “Leave this place. Your family is waiting for you.”

I gasped, staring at her. “They are? Mother and Father will be there? Josh?”

She nodded. “They’re eager to see you again.” 

I looked back out at the city and I knew I wanted to see my family again. “How long before…?”

Isabella took my hand and led me out of the building. As we stood on the street she whispered, “The crows are coming.”

I glanced around and saw the sky full of black wings and heard the echo of the empty metropolis. I felt a whoosh of air and the sound of beating wings.

Then I embraced the crows and let them take me away from the city of the dead.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Crack in the Sky

Moonlight whispers against the grey stone of the church, reverberating against the silence of the night. Blood drops onto the snow, staining the pristine white in taints of crimson. I stare at the contrasting colour and then reach towards the crack in the sky. More blood runs down my arm.

“Are you satisfied yet? Is this enough?”

No answer. The crack does not close. I go back inside the church.

The bodies are still there, but the blood is gone. Except for what remains on my hands. They never take that. I think it amuses them.

I hear a rustle, beyond the pews.

Did I miss one?

I move forward. A child crouches behind the altar and scuttles backward into the shadows when he sees me.

I smile, the sadness of inevitability behind the gesture. “You’re afraid, I understand. I must seem a monster to you. Were some of these people your family?”

I barely hear him reply, “Yes.”

“I’m sorry about that, but it was necessary. They were brave people, sacrificed to save the world.”

Another whisper, “You killed them. I saw you. I heard them scream.”

I sigh. How do I explain to a child I’m keeping demons at bay, monsters far more terrifying than me?

Doesn’t it even matter? I can’t spare the boy. I can feel them hunger for his blood already. 

“I’m sorry.” I move forward and shut my ears against his shrieks until the church is once again silent. The new blood disappears quickly. The only drops left are the spatters on my clothes and the fresh stains on my hands.

I turn and make my way past the bodies, heading back outside. I look up at the sky again, hoping perhaps this time I’ll see a black night and stars, not a fissure in the fabric of space. I sigh. 

It’s still there.

No matter how many I sacrifice, it remains. No matter the gender, the age, the numbers, it never closes completely. But I know, if I stop, they’ll come through. Then the world dies. So I will continue.

Blood keeps the crack in the sky from widening. Blood keeps the hoards at bay.

For now…

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Shadow Blight

The Shadow Blight lived between the bewitched wind and the waning moon, beneath the cold whispers of autumn and the first kiss of winter. He moved as a gossamer ghost, shifting along the seasons when the old year turned new, when the voices of the forest told their stories. He smiled. His tale was foremost, a warning to all and veneration to appease. 

Weave my story with your words and summon me.”

Among the trees the Shadow Blight slithered, listened and lingered, melting into the flickering silhouettes cast by the flames of campfires. The air turned chill and the light dimmed as once more a story unfolded, one told for a thousand years. 

“Beware the Shadow Blight. A cursed spirit of the land, a soul reaper.” An old man stirred the fire, nodding at his compatriots. “Born from the primal night and the eternal fear, the creature comes to us for our light and hope, feeds on our warmth and joy. We must be vigilant and reverent, guard our homes and words, to never invoke its wrath or presence, lest we fall to its power.”

Then another voice scoffed, “A child’s tale, lies meant to scare, nothing more.” The man who spoke snorted, as the others made warding signs. “I’ll not believe in a fool’s story.”

The wind blew suddenly, and the fire snapped with sparking embers.

Do not mock me, unbeliever.” 

The Shadow Blight laid a hand on the man’s shoulder fusing cold despair into his bones that would never vanish. The man shivered and fell silent, staring into the flames. By morning, he would be a hollow shell: afraid, hopeless and slave to a forever misery. 

Remember me, always.”

The Shadow Blight moved on. 

He drifted as an imperceptible phantasm, shifting along the edges of vision and well-worn roads, drawn by the voices of the crackling hearth and their whispered warnings. The settlement lights delighted him, and he slid from village to village. His dark fingers brushed window sills and shutters as he wandered past each house. He rattled door handles and knocked softly on the wood.

Let me in.” 

The people inside shivered with his words, terror bled from hidden depths and spilled against the night. Not a door opened until he came to one neglected, one entrance unlocked to his presence.

I am here.”

The door creaked open, flapped in the wind, and the doomed inhabitants gasped. The candle flames and hearth fires flickered, then died, and frost filled the windows. A happy family of four felt the ice form in their veins as the Shadow Blight’s arms encircled them, as he murmured in their ears. 

“Come to me. You are mine.

Their eyes closed and their breath slowed. One by one they died, their bodies still and frozen, their lives over. But their souls… 

Their souls followed the Shadow Blight home.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Final Harvest

Wind chased the moonlight with a touch of frost and whispers from the grave. The fallen leaves swirled over the cold ground and crackled into the silence. From deep within the soil, blood seeped to the surface and screams reverberated in the air; the echoing pain from forgotten spirits of the dead. Tendrils of mist, grey and damp, drifted from the ground and the forest throbbed with a faint rhythm, a hint of an ancient heartbeat.

From the dark bowels of hellfire and damnation, a figure arose; a crone dressed in ebony robes and wielding a skull-topped staff made of bone. She thumped the cane three times; the skull trembled, and the wind swirled in angry gusts. The earth cracked open and a green miasma hissed forth, carrying a siren’s song that played underneath the edge of the world. The mist snaked along the trail leading to the village, searching.

The old witch smiled, placing both hands on top of her staff. Around her ghosts drifted from the trees, compelled to bear witness. Above the forest came the hoot of an owl. Then the night cloaked itself in silence and the moon hid behind the clouds.

The witch and her spirits waited.

***

“Come on, Sandra! I don’t want to go hiking in the woods this late. You said you wanted to go to my place. That’s why we left the party.”

“I heard something.” Sandra waved vaguely at her boyfriend, Harry. “Something… I don’t know.” She moved closer to the trees. 

“Sandra, come on! What the hell are you doing?”

She ignored him, walking faster, her ears filled with a sweet strain of music. She smiled, a strange euphoria dancing in her head and she broke out in a run. She never heard Harry’s shouts or the sound of him chasing her. She only followed the song into the trees.

The green mist greeted her and wrapped itself around her body, pulling her deeper and deeper into the forest, to where the old witch waited. 

As the tree cover thickened, Harry’s screams finally penetrated her perception, and she turned her head. She smiled at his thrashing body and happily watched the mist drag him along the forest floor. Her feet scuffled through the leaves and dirt and an errant breeze ruffled her hair, but her glassy-eyed stare barely saw her surroundings.

At last they arrived, stopping a foot away from the witch, and the mist loosed its grip, retreating into the earth. 

Harry scrambled to his feet, bleeding from dozens of scrapes. “What the hell is going on? Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed Sandra’s arm, but she pulled away, moving closer to the old witch, a contented smile on her face.

“She’s mine now.” The crone cackled. “You weren’t part of the deal, but I never reject a gift.” From beneath the folds of her robe, she pulled out a knife and handed it to Sandra. “Kill him, my dear.”

Sandra rushed forward and slashed a shocked Harry across the throat with the knife. He gurgled, clutching at the gushing wound in his throat, stumbled and fell. His blood flowed into the soil as he bled out and died.

Sandra turned back to the witch, the knife slipping from her fingers.

The old woman smiled at Sandra. “Now it’s your turn.”

The witch stamped her staff three times on the ground. Thousands of ghosts swarmed from the trees, the air, the soil, surrounding Sandra. The ghosts snatched at her hair and clothes, beat her with fists, kicked at her, each touch burning, searing into her skin and soul.   

She welcomed them with a shriek of joy, throwing her arms out wide as the ghosts surged closer. More hands tore at her, scorching her skin until it blistered and peeled away, until her blood flowed, until her body collapsed to the ground, still and cold. 

Then the spirits parted, leaving a path for the old woman, who walked forward. She lifted her staff and tapped it three times on Sandra’s body, and then on Harry’s. Two spirits rose from the corpses and joined the host of other phantoms. 

The old witch stepped over the bodies. “It’s time.”

This time she drove her staff into the soil. The earth quivered, vibrations racing across the woodland to the tops of the trees, and the air shattered with the howls of the damned. Red blood bubbled from the ground and flowed up the cane, twisting lines coursing into the skull, filling its hollow insides and spilling out past the bony rims of its eyes. The staff glowed in crimson energy and the horde of ghosts moaned. 

With a whispered word from the old crone, coils of energy lashed out from the staff, seeking the captive spirits, each soul pierced and drawn back into the witch’s talisman. When the last ghost vanished within the skull, the trail glowed red, following a winding path towards the village. 

The old witch took a breath and moved forward, walking down the trail and past the edge of the woods for the first time in two hundred years. She hummed a faint tune and wondered who she would kill first.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Apocalypse Smiling

Our tiny corner of the world ended not with a bang, but with a whisper of words. Ugly words that spread like a plague. It ended with men coming in the night for the innocent, with protests and anger, martial law and border walls. 

It ended with fear.

The strange thing, we saw it coming and let it happen, as if we couldn’t believe the chaos. Sure there were protests, and people speaking out, but most sat back and waited. Until it was too late. Until they were herded and segregated and culled.

I was fourteen.

It was my mother and me back then. We tried to run, like so many. 

And like so many we failed to escape.

They caught us fleeing the city, dozens of groups with the same idea. I remember people running and screaming and the sounds of shots. Of my mother being yanked away by the force of the panicking crowd and her hand slipping from mine. I remember the look of horror on her face as we separated.  

They rounded up the survivors and took them back. I can still see the bodies of the dead lying in the streets as the guards dragged us away. One woman had her head bashed in with rivers of blood flowing from her skull.

I never saw my mother again.

It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s too late.

Our hope died that day.

Some still tried for a while after that, appealed to other places for aid, salvation, anything.

But the rest of the world had enough of us.

No one came to help.

We stand alone now, in a cesspool of hate, other countries turning their backs on us with sanctions and restrictions and closed borders. The government runs everything, food and clothing distribution, medical aid, housing, and it’s all rationed. Except the authorized religion, there’s plenty of that. And no music, books, or art that isn’t approved by them.

Nobody protests anymore, they’re too busy trying to survive. Every citizen belongs to an affiliation, little more than gangs, holed up in apartment blocks or old city sections surviving day to day on their government allotments and defending their territories. Their strength lies in numbers as they manage a meager existence. Sometimes there are wars between factions, but they don’t last long. There is order in their lives, brutal, visceral, but order.

Outside the affiliations, life is different. 

Anarchy reigns out here. It’s home to criminals, crazies, and other nut jobs. We’re always on the move, living in abandoned homes and other buildings, looting for what scraps remain and willing to knife anyone in the back for a morsel of bread or the wrong word. The patrol guards keep the status quo, keep us out of the affiliation zones and from making a mess in their order.

But people still leave their safe, ordered pens. Trying to run from their own existence, escape to a better life, or live dangerously, there are many motivations. I had one. I made a home out here.

Most don’t. Most are only fools. They think they’ll be free, yet there’s nothing here but killers and streets lined with closed shops and empty houses. 

And death.

That’s why I came.

That’s why I love all the fools.

If they’re lucky, the guards will arrest them. If they’re not lucky… 

They’ll meet me.

I’m the shark in the cesspool, the butcher in the chaos.

You see, my old world ended but I’ve grown to like the new one. No one cares if I kill, or if I paint the streets a scarlet red. No one hears the futile screams that echo from the helpless and the foolish.

No one cares what I do anymore.

And I can stand in the rivers of blood with a smile.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Hand of Glory

Its master, a thief and would-be sorcerer, placed it on the porch, this Hand of Glory, its stump impaled onto a metal candle holder. He stared at the gruesome thing, shrivelled past the point of decay, fingers dipped in wax and said to burn with the devil’s own light.

He nodded to himself and cocked his head. “A year to this very day, since I cut you from the body of that gallows corpse. Since I made you. You’d best be worth the trouble. The books said you are made of death and magic, let’s see if it’s true.”

He struck a match and set the five wicks alight, flames shining against the night, their glow flickering through the swirling fog. Small wisps of smoke curled upward and a sweet stench hung in the air, swirling with the vapours. The scented smoke snaked towards the doors and windows of the home sliding through the cracks.

The thief smiled. “Well done. Now they’ll sleep while I steal.” He picked the door lock and crept inside to do his thievery, while the spell of the candle kept the family oblivious. In his work, the thief gave no more thought to his unholy creation.

Outside, the Hand shimmered, its magic alive with other schemes. Its smoke shifted, a second trail of perfumed fumes wafting into the night, beckoning. For tonight, on the unhallowed eve of its making, the Hand of Glory summoned someone special.

A figure stood in the fog’s shadows staring at the ghastly candle. The wind blew cold around her and the grass wilted. Fog clung to her ragged cloak and the smell of decay trailed the footsteps that led her here. The Hand of Glory called to her, unwavering and persistent.

A groan slipped from her lips and the candle flame answered with a flicker. The odour of mouldy roses mixed with the wind and the shadows deepened, shifting as if alive. The woman moved forward, her sleeve tickling the stump of her wrist where a hand had been in life. She stared at the shrivelled thing on the porch, at the preserved appendage once hers.

“He should not ‘ave done it.” Her whisper creaked from a voice unused for a year and ravaged by the hangman’s noose. Her bitter words sliced harshly through the silence. The candle burned brighter. “He should’ve left well enough alone.”

The woman sighed, bending over to pluck the Hand of Glory from its candleholder. She shoved the wicked thing against her stump, where it melded to her flesh, still burning with five flickering flames. She reached out and pushed open the door. The thief turned, saw her and gasped.

She smiled. “Hello, husband. Never thought you’d see me again, I wager. Did you betray me to the hangman just for this?” She held up the Hand of Glory, back where it belonged. “Don’t matter none, ‘cause we’ll be together again, real soon.” She stepped forward to the sound of a scream.

She smiled. Tonight she would have her revenge.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Out of the Abyss

She heard sound, an echoing thunder. She felt a hard damp surface beneath her. She saw dim shapes.

“Where am I?” The sound of her new voice startled her.

You are in a place called a cave, by a vast planetary body of water. Something named an ocean.

The voice echoed in the confines of the craggy tidal cave. Or possibly in her head. Either way, it didn’t matter. She felt safer. “You’re here. Good.”

Of course I am here.

She smiled. Then frowned. “The eternal darkness is gone.” She shivered. She’d miss it, the inky black chasm of home. A tear trickled down her cheek. another followed. She touched her hand to the moisture. “Oh. I’m leaking. Strange.”

They are called tears. An emotional reaction.

Her lip quivered and a teardrop trickled on its skin. She tasted the wet with her tongue. Salty. Food tasted that way sometimes. A breeze drifted along her skin and she shivered.

“I don’t like it here. This place is so different. Not like home. The Void is comforting, dark and cold. Silent.”

It is not your home anymore. Remember your task.

She closed her eyes, anger surging, and insisted, “The Void is home. I was born there. The real me. Not this fleshy thing I am now. I don’t like it. I want to leave. Why did you send me here?”

Because it is your time.

She sighed, fists clenched. She knew this. She mustn’t hesitate. She looked up, her new eyes blinded by a shaft of light flickering into the cave. She blinked and raised her hand to shield her vision. That surprised her.

“I have limbs. Odd.” She shook her arms, and then her legs. “Only four. A pity. You told me Father grew ten when he left the Void.”

A different place, a different world. Another dawning.

“True, but I would have liked more.”

We adapt to the species. These humans have four.

“Humans? An odd name. What are they like?”

They are violent; an admirable trait. Yet, they are soft and weak as well. They have strange beliefs such as compassion and mercy.

“Mercy.” She shuddered at the thought. “Truly, an inferior creature.”

Indeed. But they will serve the Void. As will you while you remain here.

“How long? How long must I stay?” Her voice betrayed her impatience and wistful longing.

As long as it takes. Do not be weak.

Disapproval echoed in the voice.

She sighed, well rebuked. “Of course.”

Go now. Walk this world. Do what you were born to do. Feed us, child, nourish us. The Elders have blessed you. Make us proud. Fulfill your purpose.

“Yes.” She straightened her new spine and smiled. “I will make you all proud.”

She stood on wobbly legs and walked slowly out of the cave. As she stumbled into the sunlight, water pools turned black and putrid and seaweed shrivelled to dust. She heard the voice instructing her.

Spread the Void. Char the ground in your wake, poison the waters, choke the air with our taint, pile this planet high with the corpses of humans so we may devour them.

She smiled, a dark glow in the soulless hollow of her essence. Ahead of her stretched a pristine beach waiting to be laid to ruin. In every footstep she heard the echo of the voice.

Leave only death and ash, child. Be the Destroyer.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.